Sunday, November 22, 2015

Take Heart!


Catholic Peace Fellowship

Deacon Tom Cornell

         The Catholic Church is the largest and oldest association of people in an organized structure on earth in all of history.  In two thousand years’ time, over so vast an area with so many people, we’ve had the opportunity to make just about every mistake conceivable.  It’s no wonder there have been scandals.  It’s painful!  So why love this corrupt institution?

                   First of all, the Church is not corrupt, not in itself.  Some of its representatives have been, yes!  But the Church remains the Mystical Body of Christ and the Holy Spirit will never desert us.  “The gates of hell will not prevail.”  Members might fail, some very badly, but the Church remains what it is, bringing us Jesus in word and sacrament.  If it were not for the Church not many people on earth would ever have heard of Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ, Lord and Savior.  Jesus would be lost to history were it not that his followers kept together and developed, from New Testament times, the basic hierarchical structure of the Church, East and West, with bishops, priests and deacons, the same structure and the same seven sacraments throughout the far-flung ancient world up to the present day. 

          Here we have the biblical readings every Sunday revealing God’s plan of salvation.  Then there are the saints.  If we have villains, we have the most marvelous heroes too.  Their memorials, their stories, their feasts, are strategically placed throughout the year.  Their lives tell us what authentic Christian discipleship is all about.  We must admit, their stories are often sanitized for mass consumption and dumbed down, sorry to say.  The details of their lives are censored to suit certain constituencies.  Take Saints Francis and Anthony, for instance.  Francis rocked both the Church and the state.  We don’t hear much about that today.  He not only excoriated wealth and privilege but the political life of his day.  He fought in a battle of Assisi against Perugia before his conversion, but thereafter he refused further military service.  His Rule for the lay Third Order forbade members to bear arms under any circumstances.  Hundreds, then thousands of men joined the Third Order in Italy rather than serve in the military.  The princes didn’t like that at all.  They pressured the Pope and that section of the Rule was dropped.  They had their way.  Money talks, even in Rome! 

          St. Anthony was a hell-raiser; he wasn’t just the sweet looking guy walking around in a brown robe with the Baby Jesus sitting on a Bible in his right hand and a big white lily in his left.  People called him “Il Martello,” “The Hammer.”  He relentlessly hammered away at the bankers of his day.  He’d have had a fine time at Occupy Wall Street.  He’d fit right in!  The bishops took him seriously at last and condemned usury at an area Church synod.  The Church today has taken the same stand, essentially in line with Occupy Wall Street.  But who hears about that from the pulpit?  Nevertheless, our Church is truly a champion of the poor and oppressed and of peace.  Pope Francis has brought that right to the fore.  And he is probably the best loved man on earth. 

                   We just celebrated the feast of Saint Martin of Tours, “patron saint of soldiers,” as he is called.  As the son of a Roman army officer, Martin was forced, conscripted into the army for a twenty-five year term.  The persecution of the Church was over by his time and Christianity was now the state religion.  But when Martin was baptized he refused further military service and sat out the next war in a prison cell for a year.  It was after his release from prison and the army that he cut his cloak in half to share it with a beggar.  St. Martin should be publicly invoked as “patron saint of conscientious objectors” at least as well as soldiers. We have to ask, why isn’t he?  The patron and model for parish priests is the Cure of Ars, Saint Jean Batiste Vianney.  He was a French army deserter and hid out in the woods for over a year.   

          We of the Catholic Peace Fellowship propose active nonviolence for defense against tyranny and oppression of any and every kind.  But those who protect the freedom and security of their fellow citizens honorably in the military deserve our respect and support too.  When their patriotism and bravery are abused, when they are sent to unjust war and useless slaughter, then we must protest in the name of God.  Patriotic rhetoric will not make up for the abuse of our soldiers or comfort them when they feel they can not resign after four and five and six deployments because there are no jobs for them back home.  It should make us all pause – more veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have committed suicide than were killed in battle.  The Veterans Administration makes a mockery of the chauvinistic cant, “Support Our Troops”!  Treatment is so poor and so delayed that many simply walk away. 

          There are things worth dying for, I haven’t the slightest doubt: among them our faith, “a faith to die for,” as Michael Baxter put it.  Ancient Christian communities are being decimated in Egypt, Iraq and in Jesus own home country, Christians accepting death rather than renouncing our Christian faith.  Let their witness strengthen ours.  
          We are a family, our Church, and like any other family, with a rascal or worse here and there, but a Mother Theresa, a Damian the Leper, an Ignatius Loyola, a Francis Xavier, a Therese of Lisieux, a Dorothy Day, a Franz Jaegerstaetter, a Francis, a Clare and an Anthony.  They are our brothers and sisters and our examples.  They give us heart. 

                       The world we know today is faced with more grave threats than ever before in history, threats to our very existence.  If we are to deal with the proliferation of nuclear weapons, with climate change and global warming, with endemic poverty and the just revolutionary claims of the world’s disinherited, with terrorism, and with massive dislocation of peoples, know that the Catholic Church is a voice of sanity in this insanity, this  chaos.  We have all we need.  We have the Book and the table and we have examples to show the way, Dorothy Day not the least among them. 

         Was it a sign?  Dorothy Day died just as the sun set on the last day of the liturgical year 1980.  This is a new day, a new liturgical year.  Take heart!  If we learn from her example and have the courage that the Holy Spirit offers us, neither capitalism nor the sovereign national state will survive the 21st Century. 

          Take heart, and take part!

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Believe Him!

22 Sunday B  #125 

Deut 4, 1-2. 6-8
Ps 15
Jas 1, 17-18.21b-22. 27
Mk 7, 1-8. 14-15. 21-23

Saint James-Saint Mary Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
August 30, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell


     Do you ever wonder: what was worship like in those first days of the Church, the Mass?  The Jesus people were almost all Jews.  They gathered at synagogue on Saturday as they always had and then on Sunday, the day of the Lord’s Resurrection, they met again, most often in private homes.  There they sang hymns.  Maybe they had a letter from Saint Paul or John to read.  They certainly had psalms to sing.  They did not have a reading from the Gospel.  No Gospel had yet been written.  But they remembered Jesus.  They would share their memories of what Jesus said and did, his Sermon on the Mount, the feeding of the 5,000, his healings and exorcisms.  The presider, an apostle or his designated successor, a bishop or presbyter, which in Greek means elder or priest, would then have a few words, a sermon, or maybe a deacon might preach.  Some would state prayer intentions and all would say together the prayer the Lord had taught them.  Then the presider would invoke the Holy Spirit over gifts of bread and wine.  He would repeat Jesus’ words at the Last Supper just as Father Tom will do in a few minutes.  Then he and a deacon would distribute Communion.  There would be a short thanksgiving prayer, a blessing and a closing hymn.  Then the deacons would take the consecrated bread to the home-bound.  Just like today! 
     From the beginning we find the same basic structure of the church hierarchy, bishops, priests and deacons, and the same basic structure of our central act of worship, the Eucharist, Mass.  Except at first there was no reading from the Gospel.  The first Christians expected Jesus’ Second Coming any day, so there was no perceived need to write his story down.  The Apostle Mark would be the first to write that story, the Good News, as he called it, evangelion in Greek, gospel in Old English, good news in our language, around the year 65 A.D., some thirty or more years after the Lord’s Passion, Death and Resurrection.  Matthew and Luke were the next to write their Gospels, perhaps ten or so years later. 
     John was the last to write, John, the disciple whom Jesus loved, was a young man when he lay beside Jesus at the Last Supper.  He was probably about twenty years old at that time.  He would be the only apostle to live out his days and die a natural death.  He wrote his Gospel perhaps thirty years after Matthew and Luke, near the end of the First Century.  You certainly must have heard, as we went through John’s Sixth Chapter the last few weeks, that Jesus in John doesn’t sound like the Jesus in Mark.  John's language is exalted.  Mark's is plain and down to earth.  How could that be?
     Imagine what it must have been like for the earliest Christians.  After following Jesus for three years, having witnessed his miracles and heard his profound world-up-ending teaching, having discovered his empty tomb, then experiencing the Risen Lord alive among them again, they must have spent the rest of their lives trying to figure out what had hit them.  John’s Gospel reflects their mature understanding, that Jesus is the Incarnate Word of God.  John begins his Gospel with the words, “In the beginning.”  The first words of Genesis, the first words of the Bible are, “In the beginning.”
     We start our readings today with the Letter of Saint James.  It seems appropriate.  This is my first sermon in Saint James-Saint Mary Parish.  Do we have any parishioners from Milton with us here today?   Saint James, as you know, was a relative of Jesus.  He led the church in Jerusalem.  And he wrote a most important letter about the relationship of faith to works.  We are saved by faith in Jesus.  Nothing that we could possibly do would merit our salvation.  We cannot earn salvation.  We are saved by faith, a free gift.  But if our faith is genuine, then it will show in the way we live our lives.  We believe in Jesus, the only begotten son of God.  But do we believe Jesus, do we believe him that it is better to give than to receive, that we must love our enemies, that if our enemy hungers, we must feed him?    

Saturday, July 25, 2015


17 Sunday B  #110

2 Kgs 4, 42-44
Ps 145
Eph 4, 1-6
Jn 6, 1-15

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
July 26, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell

          Jesus went off to the other side of the Sea of Galilee and a large crowd followed him, impressed by the signs he gave by curing the sick.  Jesus climbed the hillside and sat down there with his disciples.  It was shortly before the Jewish feast of Passover.  Looking up, Jesus saw the crowds approaching and said to Philip, “Where can we buy some bread for these people to eat?”  He only said this to test Philip; he himself knew exactly what he was going to do.  Philip answered, “Two hundred denarii would only buy enough to give of them a small piece each.” One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, “There is a small boy here with five barley loaves and two fish; but what is that between so many?”  Jesus said to them, “Make the people sit down.”  There was plenty of grass there, and as many as five thousand men sat down.  Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks and gave them out to all who were sitting ready; he then did the same with the fish, giving out as much as was wanted.  When they had eaten enough, he said to his disciples, “Pick up the pieces left over so that nothing gets wasted.”  So they picked them up and filled twelve hampers with scraps left over from the meal of five barley loaves.  The people, seeing this sign that he had given, said, “This really is the prophet who is to come into the world.”  Jesus who could see that they were about to come and take him by force and make him king, escaped back to the hills by himself.  (JB trans.)

          Those of you who follow the readings in the misssalette notice that I read a different translation of the Gospel reading.  Our bishops allow us to use the Jerusalem Bible translation at Mass, and I’m very grateful that they do.  The new NAB translation is simply awful.  The translators may have been fine theologians, but they needed an English major.  Now let’s take a look at the readings.

          Our first reading from the Second Book of Kings has the Prophet Elisha feed one hundred men with twenty barley loaves, “and when they had eaten there was some left over.”  That clearly foreshadows today’s Gospel story from John.  Since the beginning of Advent we have been reading from the Gospel according to Mark.  But today and for the next four weeks we will be reading from the sixth chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus’ “Bread of Life Discourse,” beginning with the multiplication of the loaves and fish to feed the five thousand.  There are those who say that the real miracle wasn’t a physical multiplication but a moral miracle, that the men had hidden bread on their persons and, under the influence of Jesus’ teaching, they opened their secret stores to share freely with all around.  Personally, I prefer to think it was a real, physical multiplication, but you can take your choice.  Or maybe it was both. “The hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.”  I know it.  That’s my story. 

          The first time I heard Dorothy Day speak was in the spring of 1953, sixty-two years ago, at a Friday Night Meeting at the Catholic Worker headquarters down in the Bowery when the Bowery was the City’s skid-row.  I don’t remember who the speaker was that night or the topic.  All I remember is that someone got up to say, “As Catholics we all believe in the right to life.  If we believe in the right to life we must also believe in the right to the means to life, food, clothing, shelter and the like.  People should have a sense of security that these needs will be met.”  That proposition is still debated in this country today, but even then, at the Catholic Worker, it was a settled question.  But Dorothy Day didn’t like what she heard.  She stood up to pitch the conversation to a higher plane:  “Security, security!  I don’t want to hear any more about security!  There are young people here tonight.  And there are great things that need to be done, and who will do them but the young?  And how will they do them if all they are thinking about is their own security?”  Then she started stringing Bible quotes together:  “Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow.  They do not toil nor do they spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as one of these…; think not on the morrow, what you shall eat and what you shall put on; your Father has care of you”  She ended with, “Unless the grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies it remains alone.  But if it falls into the ground and dies it bears a great harvest.”  By then she had me.  I took up my sleeping bag and followed her.

          I learned from experience that the hand of the Lord feeds us; he answers all our needs.  I cannot doubt that the Lord performs miracles for my life has been a string of them, beginning with Monica who consented to be my wife and to take the chances, the risks that come with a life dedicated to practical nonviolence.  Many of you know, some may not, that I was a civil rights activist down in Alabama with Father Dugan as well as here, arrested in Selma. I was arrested I don’t know how many times for peace protests.  And I was imprisoned for five months during the Viet Nam war.  The average sentence of those convicted under the Selective Service Act at that time was three years; the maximum was five years.  God and Judge Thomas F.X. Murphy were good to us, giving us such a light sentence, just half a year.  So was my boss.  He kept me on at half-pay.  And The New York Times commissioned me to write an article for the Sunday magazine on my prison experience.  That brought in the rest of my lost income.  That seemed like a miracle.  Then Jimmy Carter gave all of us who had been convicted of nonviolent offenses in protest against the war full pardons on the very first day he was in office.  That means, on a job application, if I am asked if I have ever been convicted of a crime or a felony, I can legally answer NO!  Another miracle.  

          And we did accomplish great things.  We tore down the legal structures of racial segregation in this country through nonviolence.  We held the military back from the use of the nuclear option in Viet Nam through nonviolence.  General Curtis LeMay was urging President Johnson to nuke North Viet Nam back to the Stone Age.  Johnson pointed out a White House window, to us!  We can’t get away with it, he told the general.  And we reintroduced nonviolence into the mainstream of Catholic and Protestant moral theology.  And then there is the family, our family.  Monica and I have seven descendants.  They are all practicing Catholics, healthy, happy and bright.  How blessed we have been!  How can I doubt?

          Now the miracle we are all about to witness and partake in is the Eucharist, what the Bread of Life Discourse is all about.  Jesus so loves us that he gives himself to us as food and drink in bread and wine consecrated by his priest upon this altar.  When we eat his body and drink his blood we fulfill a desire planted deep in our souls and we become, or begin to become, what we eat and drink.  “Man ist wass man isst” is a German proverb that means, “One is what one eats.”  John tells us in his First Letter, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet been revealed; but we know that when he appears we shall be like God, because we shall see him as he is” (1 Jn 3,2). We shall be like God, for we will see him as he is!  In the meanwhile, we have the Bread of Life and the blood of the Risen Lord.  Let us all eat and drink worthily in faith.    

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Laudato Si'

13 Sunday B  #98

Wis 1, 13-15. 2, 23-24
Ps 30
2 Cor 8, 7-9. 13-15
Mk 5, 21-43

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
June 28, 2015

Deacon Tom Cornell

Our first reading from the Book of Wisdom reminds us that all creation is good, and that God created us in his own image and likeness.  We read in Genesis that at the Creation God gave man dominion over the earth and over all that is in it, not to despoil or misuse it but to till it, to make it prosper, to nurture our common home. 

The whole world has been waiting for the Holy Father, Pope Francis, to weigh in on the ecological crisis.  Is it a crisis?  Is climate change, global warming a fact or fraud?  Is it the result of human activity?  Is Mother Earth under threat?  Is it a matter of life and death?  Is the scientific evidence in?  Is it a moral question?  On June 18, the Pope gave his answer in an encyclical letter, addressed to all people living on Earth.  Its title is Laudato Si’, or Be Thou Praised, from The Canticle of the Creatures by Saint Francis of Assisi.  The answer is yes.  Yes, it’s real.  Yes, 97 percent of all scientists agree.  Yes, this is a moral, a religious question and should be addressed from the pulpit.  Otherwise, why would the Holy Father publish such a letter, almost 200 pages long?   The response world-wide has been overwhelmingly favorable.  Our Pope is seen, by Protestants as well as Catholics, by non-Christians as well as Christians, by non-believers as well as believers, as the preeminent voice of conscience in the world today.  One of Pope Francis’s major points in his letter is that environmental degradation hurts first and worst the poor.  Let us consider that in light of today’s Gospel reading.
Jairus was an official of the local synagogue, a well-respected, a wealthy man.  He didn’t have to push through the crowd to approach Jesus.  People made way for him.  Then he fell at Jesus’ feet to beseech him.  It was important in those days how one approached another person in public, especially someone he did not know, and especially if he was going to ask a favor.  Although Jairus was a leading citizen, he prostrated himself on the ground before the penniless itinerant preacher-healer Jesus and begged:  “My daughter is at death’s door.  Please, come lay your hands on her that she may get well and live!”   Mark interrupts the story abruptly.  A poor old woman enters the scene.  Jairus is kept waiting by an old impoverished woman, a woman suffering from a flow of blood.  It is not just that she is ill and poor and a woman; she is unclean, ritually unclean.  Women were considered unclean once a month, but this poor woman had been haemorrhaging for twelve years.   
Notice how the woman approaches Jesus.  The crowd makes no way for her, she does not fall before him; she is afraid even to approach Jesus face to face.  She dares only to stretch out her hand and touch his clothing, “the hem of his garment,” from behind.  When Jesus realizes that healing power has gone out of him, he demands to know who has touched him.  Then in fear and trembling she comes forward and falls before him to explain herself.  “Daughter,” he tells her, “your faith has saved you.  Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” 

          Then Mark returns to the story of Jairus.  Word comes that his daughter has died.  Jesus tells him not to fear but to have faith.  As they approach Jairus’ house they hear the din of wailing.  Finally the touching scene: Jesus takes her hand and says, “Little girl, I say to you, arise!”  She gets up and walks around, and finally the charming detail, “Give her something to eat.” 

          What are we to take from this “miracle within a miracle,” as it is called, the story of Jairus interrupted by the story of the woman with a flow of blood?  The action stops, the powerful synagogue leader is put on hold, for the sake of a woman, a second-class citizen in those days, and worse, one who is poor and  worse than that, “unclean.”  The lesson is this:  in the economy of Jesus, in God’s economy, it’s not the big-shots but the poor, the sick, those who are pushed aside who come first, not the big-shots, but the little-shots.   Nowadays we call it “the preferential option for the poor.”  Not that any are excluded!  The Holy Father makes it clear in his really beautiful encyclical that Christian solidarity is universal friendship, no one is left out.  But those who have the means must be especially mindful and open-hearted and open-handed to the poor, as Paul tells us in our second reading today.  And everyone can do something to stem the tide of pollution.  Plant a tree, or at least a tomato.  Eat locally grown food.  No more plastic bags from the supermarket.  Take reusable cloth bags of your own.  Don’t flush for everything.  Dry your clothes in the sun and the breeze!  They’ll last longer and smell better.  Little steps like these make a difference, and they raise consciousness. 

And always give thanks for God’s great gifts to us, first for the world he has created for us and then for our Catholic faith, for our Catholic Church, and for such a Holy Father.  Long may he live!       W

Sunday, May 31, 2015



Dt 4, 32-34. 39-40
Ps 33
Rom 8, 14-17
Mt 28, 16-20

St. Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
May 31, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell

The eleven disciples set out for Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had arranged to meet them.  When they saw him they fell down before him, though some hesitated.  Jesus came up and spoke to them.  He said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go, therefore, make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all the commands I gave you.  And know that I am with you always; yes, to the end of time.”  (JB trans.)
                    Today’s reading from Deuteronomy has Moses address the Hebrew people after they had been led out of Egypt, after the Covenant, the Ten Commandments had been given at Mount Sinai, as they were about to enter the Promised Land.  God had to remind them again and again through Moses: there is but one God who led you out of slavery.  There is no other! One!   Keep my commandments, not the Ten Suggestions, but Ten Commandments.  God had to call the People back, time and time again.  Many fell away.  But to the Jews who remain faithful to the ancient Covenant to this day, the one-ness of God is the depth of mystery, the rock of their faith.  (Hassidic Jews today sing a song that goes, “Einer iz Gott, un Gott iz einer, un wayter keiner!”  “One is God and God is one and beyond him none!”) 
          To the Muslins too, the one-ness of God is central.  (I’ll never forget how fourteen year old Ahmed’s face shone when he said to me, “Allah waheed!”  “God is one,” as he pressed his prayer beads into my hand. His faith was palpable.)  It is hard for Jews and Muslims, to say nothing of atheists and agnostics, to understand that we Christians too believe that God is one -- and also that God is three.  One God, three divine persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  How can that be?  That’s not for me to say.  It is for me to believe, because Jesus, who rose from the dead, said so in today’s Gospel.  In John’s Gospel it’s even clearer, “I and the Father are one.”  And it has been the teaching of the Church since the beginning.  It’s a faith our ancestors went to the Coliseum for.  Persecution has followed the course of the Church, and the blood of martyrs has been the seed of Christians since the beginning.
          Upon seeing the risen Lord on that mountain in Galilee, some of the eleven doubted, or hesitated.  The original Greek word literally says they stood in two places (edisastan), confused, as if not knowing which way to turn.  It should be a comfort to you and me to know that even those who walked the earth with Jesus, who ate and drank with him and witnessed his many miracles had moments of doubt.  Without doubt there cannot be belief.  We believe because we wish to believe, we will to believe.  But even this desire is not of our own but a grace, a free gift of God.  In his love, God always makes the first move.  Take his gift and be glad, and share it! 
          The disciples went out and did as Jesus told them, out to all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of he Son and of the Holy Spirit, the Triune God.  All nations are now God’s special children, brothers and sisters in Christ, one family, each and every one an actual or a potential member of the Mystical Body of Christ. 
          For many Christians, these are hard times; persecution of Christians has seldom been so widespread or vicious even in the land of Jesus’ birth.  The age of martyrs is not over.  Archbishop Oscar Romero died a martyr’s death for the Faith thirty-five years ago.  Last week a quarter of a million people gathered in San Salvador, four national presidents and six cardinals of the Church, to witness his beatification.  It’s on the front page of today’s issue of Catholic New York.  Not everyone is happy about that.  Learn that history, if you don’t already know it, and ask yourself why. 
          The last line of Matthew’s Gospel is a promise that will be kept.  “I am with you always, yes, even to the end of time.”  We are not alone.  We will never be alone.  And after the last empire crumbles, the Church will still stand, even until the last day when all will be made new, even us.  


Sunday, April 26, 2015


4 Easter B  #50

Acts 4, 8-12
Ps 118
1 Jn 3, 1-2
Jn 10, 11-18

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
April 26, 2015

Deacon Tom Cornell

                   It’s over!  Suddenly it was over, that long, hard winter.  Then, just as suddenly, winter made a reappearance: hail on Thursday, snow squalls on Friday.  But be reassured.  The earth is coming back to life.  Nature does her hardest work this time of year.  Everything is coming up.  Life is good.
           Jesus rose from the dead to assure us of life, eternal life, life everlasting.  God created man a little lower than the angels, the Psalmist tells us, but when the Eternal Word of God took flesh in the Virgin Mary’s womb, God elevated man above the angels.  The Apostle John tells us that now we are sons and daughters of God, but what we shall be, in the Resurrection, what we shall be has not yet come to light, but when it does, we shall be like God for we will see Him as He is.  Try to take that in!  We shall be like God!  We shall see Him as He is!  If we really believe this wild horses could not keep us from Sunday Mass every Sunday, to meet Jesus in breaking open the word of the Gospel and in the breaking of bread!  And why should we fear death if we can believe this?  As we age and one bodily system after another fails us, we fear death not for ourselves but for our children and theirs.  That is the most terrible loss.  But even then, God is good.  God is merciful, compassionate.  He suffers with us.
                   “There is no other name,” Luke tells us in Acts, no other name by which we are to be saved.  Jesus is the only savior, the sole mediator between God and humankind.  There is no other.  Does that mean that non-Christians cannot be saved?  There was a time, before the Second Vatican Council, when some people might say so, as hard is to imagine today. 
          I’ve told this story before but some of you might have missed it.  It happened at the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, in the office of Abraham Joshua Heschel, the most influential rabbi of his generation, in the spring of 1967.  Heschel had been asked by Cardinal Bea in Rome to go to the Vatican with a team of Jewish leaders to help prepare for the Council.  That was a first.  No Jew had ever been asked to help prepare for an oecumenical council of the Catholic Church.  When they gathered, at a private meeting with Pope Paul, Cardinal Bea asked, “What would the Jews hope to see come out of the Council?” 
          They were astounded.  This is how I remember Heschel answering.  “This is what I told them.  ‘We Jews face very extinction.  There are four threats.  First, the Enlightenment hit our people unprepared so that in a generation’s time the observance rate fell precipitously.  With non-observance comes inter-marriage; that’s factor two.  That means children lost to Judaism.  Three, we lost one out of every three of our people to the Nazi Holocaust.  Four, the State of Israel is in a precarious position surrounded by enemies.  On top of all that, you people are trying to convert us!  How would the Church understand it, and how would you take it personally, Your Holiness, if the religion that Mary taught little Jesus in their home in Nazareth were to disappear from the face of the earth?’  The answer: ‘I never thought of it that way. But we’re going to!’ ” 
          The result of this consultation was the document Nostra Aetate, In Our Age, on the relation of the Catholic Church to Non-Christian religions.  The Council Fathers condemned all forms of anti-Semitism and repudiated the view that all the Jews of His time or their descendants are guilty of Jesus’ death.  They held that God’s covenant with the Jews stands and has never been withdrawn or revoked.  The Church honors the truths that can be found in all religious traditions, but she recognizes the special and unique relationship we have with the Jewish people, as wild olive branches grafted onto the good root stock of Israel. 
          The Council called upon people of all faiths to put aside past hurts and to work together for the common good, for justice and for peace.  We recognize and honor the truths found in all religions.  But Jesus remains the sole savior, the One who saves not only Catholics and Christians but Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Buddhists and even those who claim they have no faith but seek truth and goodness with a sincere heart. 
          God’s greatest gift to us is our faith.  Can you believe that at last we will be like Him for we will see Him as He is?  If that is so, we can stand up to anything, as the 41 Coptic martyrs did only a few weeks ago in Egypt.  They were given the chance to renounce their Christian faith, but they gladly died with the word Jesus on their lips, Jesus, Jesus. 
          “I do believe, Lord.  Help Thou my unbelief!”   

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Choose Life

LENT 2015

Dt 30, 15-20
Ps 1
Lk 19, 22-25

The Catholic Peace Fellowship
Deacon Tom Cornell

          “I have set before you life and death, a blessing and a curse.  Choose life, then, that you and your descendants may live,” the parting words of Moses to the Hebrews as they prepared to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land.  “Choose life!”
Today’s psalm doesn’t square with our experience.  “Happy the man who follows not the counsel of the wicked. ...He is like a tree planted near running water.  . …Whatever he does prospers. …Not so the wicked.  They are like chaff which the wind blows away.”  Would that it were so.  Often good people suffer and the wicked do just fine; we know it.  Look at the halls of power anywhere.  In our own country a council of the wicked invites a mass murderer to address a joint session of Congress to instigate war against Iran!  They all ride in state, so far!  “Pride goeth before a fall.”  In the end, the First Psalm will be vindicated. 
There are contradictory themes in the Bible.  The trials of Job and Ecclesiastes’ cry of, “Vanity of vanities and all is vanity” tell a different story than the First Psalm.  We read in Exodus that “The sins of the fathers will be visited upon their sons…. The fathers eat sour grapes and the sons’ teeth are put on edge (Ex 34,7).  On the other hand, “Each is to die for his own sin.  Every man who eats sour grapes is to have his own teeth set on edge” (Jer 31, 10   In the end, all will be put right.  That is our hope.  Christ is our hope, who broke down the wall that separated us, Jew from Gentile. “Happy are they that hope in the Lord.” 
We have to hope and trust in the Lord in the face of all that threatens life today.  The nuclear threat has never receded; we can’t bear to face that reality.   The Cold War is back, and a real danger it will turn hot.  Who could imagine in this day and age horrors such as IS and Boko Haram visit upon innocent people?   Then there is climate change.  The overwhelming consensus of scientists from all over the world blames human activity for environmental degradation and predicts extinction of species, even our own unless drastic steps are taken to reduce green-house emissions.  Our hyper-individualistic culture calls for abortion on demand, at any stage of pregnancy or even delivery.  “If we will not spare our children, whom will we spare?” asks Mother Theresa. We are all affected by a spreading culture of death.  We don’t have to go far to look for crosses to bear.
We enter Lent today, a somber time of fasting and prayer and almsgiving in anticipation of the joy of Easter.  Here are some suggestions for fasting, prayer and almsgiving.  Fasting: no meat on Fridays of Lent, and on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, and only one full meal and two light meals for those between ages 18 and 59 and who are well.  You might voluntarily adopt a stricter discipline, especially if that will help you get back into clothes you have outgrown in girth.  You can fast from other things than food.  Fast from distraction.  Turn off the TV and the radio.  Establish a zone of quiet around you that will facilitate prayer.  Prayer: try reading The Liturgy of the Hours, especially the Office of Readings every day, with selections from the ancient Fathers; they are so very rich. Or plan to go through the New Testament by Holy Week. 
Read the works of Fr. John L. McKenzie, the foremost Catholic biblical scholar of his time and unsurpassed to this day.  He was an original sponsor of the Catholic Peace Fellowship.  I keep his Dictionary of the Bible by my bed.  His The Two-edged Sword: An Interpretation of the Old Testament and The Power and the Wisdom: An Interpretation of the New Testament will deepen your insight into Christian radicalism.  It was he who said that if you can’t understand from reading the New Testament that Jesus was nonviolent, then you can’t understand anything about him.  Dorothy Day said of Fr. McKenzie, “I thank God for sending me men with such insight as Fr. McKenzie.”

Almsgiving: dig deep and help the Catholic Peace Fellowship.  I will not embarrass our staff people but just let me say they work hard for what we all believe in so deeply at real personal sacrifice.  Help them to help those who call upon our services.  Pray about it.  And choose life!  W

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Ministry of Justice

3 SUNDAY B  #68

Jon 3, 1-5. 10
Ps 25
1Cor 7, 29-31
Mk 1, 1-15

Saint Mary’s Church, Marlboro, N.Y.
January 25, 2015
Deacon Tom Cornell

                        Nineveh was an enormous city, once the largest city in the world, but that was long ago, over two thousand years.  Now it lies in ruins. Its massive wall remains, and little else.  A few days after Christmas, 2002, before the US invasion of Iraq, a small group of us stood under the arch of what was once a Nineveh city gate to read the whole Book of Jonah.  Then we went across the Tigris to Mosul.  A giant bell tower with a large Christian Cross to mark a Catholic parish and school rose above the city. I wonder if it’s still there.  St. Thomas the Apostle founded that church.  It is now almost entirely gone.  Christians have been forced either to convert to Islam or to flee, to abandon their homes, their shops, their livelihoods or to die.  How much of it is our fault, we must ask ourselves! Why should we care?  Because we are one body, one church.
                        Today’s Gospel reading from Mark tells of the calling of the first apostles.  “Come, follow me; I will make you fishers of men.”  They left their father and his hired men and went off with Jesus on the spot.  For three years they travelled with Jesus, walking through Galilee, up the Syrian coast, through Samaria, finally to Jerusalem, learning from him of the approaching Kingdom of God.
          Jesus’ mission was to the lost sheep of Israel (Mt 10, 5-6).  But it was through Jesus that the promise to Abraham that his children would be a blessing to all peoples would be fulfilled.  It was only after his death and resurrection that Jesus’ ultimate purpose was revealed to the Twelve, the Apostles, their mission:  “Make disciples of all the nations; baptize them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And know that I am with you always, even to the end of time” (Mt 28, 19-20). 
          From Jerusalem the apostles went out.  None of them established as many churches as Paul with the possible exception of Thomas, who traveled as far as India, where a vibrant Catholic church thrives today in the State of Kerala.    
           The church is local and it is universal, governed by all the bishops  gathered around the Bishop of Rome, the Pope, whose primary function it is to symbolize and to guarantee the unity of the Church spread throughout the world.  We have been blessed with wonderful popes during my time.  And what a Pope we have today!  We knew, from the very first words he spoke to the crowd in St. Peter’s Square after his election that a new day is dawning.  We expected to hear Latin, something like “Laudetur Jesus Christus,” “Jesus Christ be praised,” which is fine, but what we heard was, “Buona Sera!” “Good afternoon!”  Instead of blessing the crowd, the Pope asked their blessing, and bowed. 
             Pope Francis will not change the doctrine of the Church.  No one can do that.  But he will forward a fundamental purpose, to serve the people, especially the poor and those who have no one else to speak for them.  For the Church speaks to people’s material as well as their spiritual needs, good news to the poor.  What does good news to the poor sound like?  “You’re  getting a disability check right now, about a thousand dollars a month.  We’ll cut that back to eight hundred next year.”  Does that sound like good news to you, to the poor? "We can’t afford to educate your children past high school because we’d have to raise taxes?”  Does that sound like good news to the poor?  Redistribution of wealth may not be good news to the super-rich, but they can take it.
          When the Holy Father speaks of the need for the redistribution of wealth, some people think he’s talking some kind of new and dangerous idea.  Not at all.  It comes right out of the Prophets of Israel and the Jubilee Year of the Old Testament and out of the social doctrine of the Church.  Listen to this:
“Workers have been surrendered… to the hard-heartedness of employers and to greed… so that a small number of the very rich have been able to lay upon the teeming masses of the laboring poor  a yoke little better than that of slavery.”  Is that Karl Marx?  No, it’s Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical Rerum Novarum, On the Condition of the Working Class, in 1891.  Our society has made great advances since then, due largely to organized labor, but we have also taken steps backward.   The gap between their productivity and workers’ pay and the gap between rich and poor have been growing step by step along with the decline of organized labor. 
           The social doctrine of the Church continues to develop by way of
papal encyclicals and the teachings of bishops’ synods and national conferences of bishops.  The Synod of Bishops in 1971 decreed that work for justice is a constitutive, that is an essential, element of the preaching of the Gospel.  It’s not optional, something you can tack on if you want it.   Some people didn’t like that and have been trying to water that teaching down ever since.  They won’t get far with Pope Francis in Rome.
          Our archdiocesan seminary has commissioned me over the past several years to teach Catholic Social Doctrine to deacon candidates, like our dear Vinny Porcelli.  Deacons have a special responsibility to convey our social teaching to the people because of the very nature of our order, the diaconate.  We are not priests.  Ours is not a priestly office.  It is an office of justice and charity on behalf of our bishops.  Charity is a hard word.  No one wants to be the recipient of charity.  It is demeaning.  And to offer as a handout to the poor a small part of what was stolen from them is an outrage crying to heaven.  Let us rather say justice and mercy.
          We all agree on the right to life from beginning to natural end by virtue of our humanity, made in the image and likeness of God.  If that is so, then it follows that we have the right to the means to life, food, clothing, shelter, medical care, purposeful work and decent living conditions.  This again is nothing new.  Read it in Pope John XXIII’s Pacem in Terris, Peace on Earth, 1963.
            Let me get back to Nineveh, and Mosul in Mesopotamia, the land between the rivers.   The vast majority of Muslims want the same things we do, peace and honest work to raise our families.  How is it that fanatics should murder in the name of God in a wave of barbarism one would have thought impossible in this day and age?  Saddam Hussein’s day looks good in comparison.  If Iraq needed a regime change, and it did, we should have left it up to the Iraqi people themselves to do it. 

            Why say these things in church?  Because justice is a constitutive element of the preaching of the Gospel.  Amen.   W