Thursday, November 25, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving Proclamation

[New York, 3 October 1789]

By the President of the United States of America. a Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor—and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me “to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.”

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be—That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks—for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation—for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war—for the great degree of tranquillity, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed—for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted—for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions—to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually—to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed—to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord—To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us—and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand at the City of New-York the third day of October in the year of our Lord 1789.

George Washington

Monday, November 15, 2021

Marianist Monday


November 2021

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

I was flipping through the pages of my prayer journal just the other day, reviewing some notes that I had jotted down for an upcoming presentation on Marianist religious life. And, flipping through my journal, I found tucked away among its pages a card that I had written, probably on Thanksgiving Day of 2020. It listed the fifteen things for which I was most grateful. I listed the Marianist Community to which I belong, as well as the names of specific Brothers with whom I am particularly close. I jotted down my gratitude for all the students that I have taught. For the most part, they have been motivated, friendly, funny, and a real source of delight for me. Even the few students who have proven more “difficult” are beloved sons of God and, consequently, a genuine cause for thanks.

Our novices and temporary-professed Brothers made the list, of course, as did all the young men with whom I have spoken about a Marianist vocation. My own Marianist vocation was (and is!) as a reason for gratitude on my part, and so is the opportunity to partake of the sacramental life of the Church. Indeed, what a blessing it is to attend daily Mass, and to do that every day in communion with Christ, His Blessed Mother, and my Marianist Brothers!

I had tucked that Thanksgiving card away in my journal, and I had neglected it for close to a year, discovering it only by chance a few days ago.

There’s a lesson to be learned in that, I think. The lesson is this: It’s easy to forget all the things for which we should be thankful. So many factors cause us to forget to say, “Thank you.” Most of us lead busy lives, and in the frenetic pace of a typical day, I find that I can quite easily forget how lucky I am. Further, it has been a tough year. COVID, the curtailment of our lifestyles by the pandemic, and perhaps even COVID-related deaths among family and friends have weighed heavily upon us. And when we’re weighed down, it’s hard to lift our eyes up to the heavens and say, “Thank you.”

As I am writing this letter, my mom, Maria Josephine Sottosanti Balletta, is slowly dying. She’s 92 years old, and, for the last couple of years, she’s been suffering from congestive heart failure. For a week-and-a-half now, my siblings and I have been keeping vigil at her bedside. Thankfully, we are all there for her. She will die in her own home, surrounded by her loved ones.

There’s a sadness in my mom’s slipping away -- no doubt about that. But the feeling I most experience is gratitude. My mom and my dad lived a wonderful life. They loved one another deeply and often behaved like two starry-eyed newlyweds, even when we were grown children. They even sang to one another. At the time it struck my siblings and me as embarrassingly corny, especially when my dad came home from work; swung open the back door; and crooned, “Maria, I’ve just met a girl named Maria.” They were truly in love, and they taught us what true love is.

Every Christmas, my mom made the best lasagna ever, bar none. Throughout the year, we ate together as a family, even when my dad was running for public office and he and my mom had a series of evening events to attend. My mom loved to cook for us. She kept an impeccably clean home, and the kitchen literally sparkled. In fact, a repairman came to the house once to fix the oven and concluded that my mom must have never used it. To that mistaken conjecture, we all replied, “No, she’s been using that oven every single night for the past fifteen years. She just keeps it immaculately clean.”

A former schoolteacher, my mom was a lifetime learner. Our family excursions and vacations were almost always educational in nature. Sites like Mystic Seaport, the Corning Glass Factory, Detroit’s Henry Ford Museum, and Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry were the staples of our family vacations. And again, much to our embarrassment at the time, on seemingly every tour we took, Mom would be the first to ask the tour guide a question or volunteer to be part of some museum demonstration. It was all a bit much for us then, but, in retrospect, Mom’s intellectual curiosity helped define the people her four children would become.

I could go on and on. Mom’s sense of humor; her encouragement of my Marianist vocation; her devotion to her grandchildren; and her civic involvement, even after my dad’s passing 25 years ago, are all blessings for which I am extremely grateful. Further, she was a woman of deep and abiding faith. Her love of God and of His Church made an indelible impression on me.

These are the memories that make me grateful for my mom’s life, even as her life slips away from us.

Look, I know that all of us go through periods of good fortune and bad fortune in our lives. Further, I know that some have had to bear more than their fair share of misfortune. I admit that life’s burdens can make it difficult -- in some cases, well nigh impossible -- to be grateful.

Still, I know that all of us have something for which to be grateful. Counting those blessings, and making them count in our lives, makes all the difference in the world. The greatest saints were people of great gratitude. Indeed, their gratitude inspired them to the acts of heroic virtue for which we remember them today.

Many years ago, Fr. Tom Cardone preached on the phrase “the attitude of gratitude” during his schoolwide Thanksgiving Mass homily. That phrase has remained with me ever since.

Created in God’s image, beloved by the Father, and redeemed by Christ’s blood, we all have many blessings for which to be grateful. As Thanksgiving approaches, let us recall those blessings, give thanks to God, and adopt an “attitude of gratitude” for the rest of our lives.

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen

Thursday, November 11, 2021

Veterans Day

“Through the sign of the cross it is not the servant or the slave who is speaking, but the Lord of all creation.” —Pope St. John Paul II

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

Our Lady of the Pillar

Our Lady of the Pillar

The story goes like this, the apostle James was in Spain preaching the Gospel and things weren't going well. Mary appeared to him (on top of a pillar) to encourage him in his endeavors. Of course, Spain was eventually converted and the Spaniards continue to honor St. James. In a weird twist, according to most chronologies, Mary was still alive when she appeared to James - meaning that she could bilocate. Mary, as Our Lady of the Pillar, is venerated in Spain and many parts of Latin America.

For us Marianists, this is a big day, too. On October 11, 1797 (the day before the feast), Marianist Founder Blessed William Joseph Chaminade arrived in Zaragoza. He had just been exiled from his native France because of the ongoing persecutions of the French Revolution. He would spend the next three years in Zaragoza, spending a great deal of time praying before the Shrine of Our Lady of the Pillar. And during those three years, something happened. Yes, something, because we don't really know what happened. Fr. Chaminade wrote practically nothing about his time in Spain, and only mentioned it in passing. However, he received some sort of inspiration or mission before Our Lady of the Pillar to return to France and "re-Christianize" the country devastated by the Revolution.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Foundation Day - 204 years!

October 2021

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

Life affords us many opportunities to look back and to look ahead, to take stock of where we have come from and plan ahead for where we are going. The month of October provides the Marianists with just such an occasion – an opportunity to look back in gratitude and to look forward in hope. Two-hundred-and-four years ago, on October 2, 1817, the Society of Mary was born in Bordeaux, France. In May of that same year, several members of Blessed Father William Joseph’s sodality expressed an interest in deepening their commitment to the mission of re-Christianizing France after the French Revolution. 
In October, five of them became the first Marianists, giving birth to a religious congregation that today numbers just under a thousand members serving in thirty-four countries across the globe. Perhaps by coincidence, perhaps by Divine Providence, these five Marianists made their act of commitment on the Feast of the Guardian Angels. Like the Guardian Angels, the members of this new congregation would have one eye on God in prayer and the other on the people of the world in need.

In our own little corner of the globe, the Marianists of Long Island – that is, the Province of 
Meribah – celebrated a much more recent anniversary. On August 22 of this year, Fr. Albert F. Bertoni,
S.M. celebrated the sixtieth anniversary of his first profession of the vows of poverty, chastity, and
obedience in the Society of Mary. The quotation on Fr. Albert’s sixtieth-anniversary prayer card speaks
volumes about who we are: “The Society has but one object in view: the most faithful imitation of Jesus
Christ, Son of God, become Son of Mary, for the salvation of mankind.” (Constitutions of 1891, article

That quotation from our Constitutions echoes a favorite sentiment of Blessed Chaminade: “It is for
us an infinite honor to be like Him by becoming a living example of the life He lived when He was
among us. Now it is by Mary that this life is communicated to us.” Just as we Marianists pause from time to time to commemorate the anniversaries of religiousprofession, so too we gather to witness our newest members take their vows. On September 12, 2021, two of our men – Bro. Patrick J. Cahill, S.M. and Bro. Andrew J. Santoriello, S.M. – made their perpetual profession of the vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and stability. Stability is a fourth vow we Marianists take at the time of perpetual profession, as we promise to devote ourselves to the service of the Blessed Virgin Mary, for life, within the Society of Mary.

For their profession quotation, Bro. Pat and Bro. Andrew chose these words of Blessed Chaminade:
“We embrace religious life in Mary’s name and for her glory. We devote ourselves to her, in all that we
are and have, to make her known, loved, and served.”

Why are these celebrations – of our Society’s foundation and of individual Brothers’ vows – important for the future? I’d like to suggest three reasons: mission, witness, and sanctity.

First, mission: We Marianists are committed to the mission of Catholic education. In a day and
age becoming increasingly secular – much like Blessed Chaminade’s own times in post-Revolutionary
France – young Catholics need a solid, value-based, faith-centered education now more than ever. We
dare to dream of generations and generations of Marianist-educated Catholics who will change the world for the good; who will bring the values of the Gospel to the public square; and who will convince their fellow men and women of Christ’s truth, doing so as all true defenders of the faith, with clarity and
charity. And we dare to hope for generations and generations of future Marianists who will carry out this mission of Christ and His Blessed Mother.

Secondly, witness: The world needs not only education by instruction, but by example as well. As
St. Francis of Assisi is purported to have said: “Preach the Gospel always. Use words when necessary.”
That’s why we try to live community life, not just talk about it. Our aim is to imitate the communities of
the fledgling Church, being “of one heart and one mind, and holding everything in common.” In contrast to the all-too-frequent self-seeking and self-promotion of our contemporary culture, we strive to live simply, humbly, prayerfully, and peacefully. As our Rule of Life puts it, “We form a new family, based on the Gospel of the Lord, in which we share in common prayer, friendship, possessions, work,
successes, and difficulties. We aim to make family spirit the distinctive mark of our communities,
growing in the characteristics of Mary, particularly her faith, humility, simplicity, and hospitality.” (Rule of Life, article 35)

Finally, sanctity: This does not mean that we are saints – far from it – but that we are striving to
become saints. Blessed Chaminade envisioned his Society as a “spectacle of saints.” And how do we
become saints? By living with others in community and, in so doing, learning how to love as Jesus loves.That means learning to love those we do not particularly like, or loving even when we have been treated poorly. It means learning to love when we don’t particularly want to. Community life is a school of love, not because its members have reached the perfection of love, but because the joys and frictions of community life gradually teach us how to truly love – generously, selflessly, and unstintingly. Again,
our Rule of Life speaks eloquently on this topic: “We know that, despite our imperfections, the God who loves us and calls us to holiness can make our personal and community lives into a witness of a people of saints.” (Rule of Life, article 33)

We have deep roots in the Society of Mary – roots that we remember in a special way in the month
of October. We also have the new buds of future growth. We have nurtured that new growth, and we
will continue to do so, because the world needs vowed religious committed to their mission, willing to
witness to Christ, and striving for sanctity. It is, after all, “an infinite honor to be like Him,” and we will
cherish this honor all our days.

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen

Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Triumph of the Cross

September 2021

My dear graduates of Chaminade, Kellenberg Memorial, and St. Martin de Porres Marianist School,

We are never far from tragedy. Nor are we ever far from triumph.

The convergence of two occasions brings this dichotomy of tragedy and triumph to mind. The first of these occasions, as you might have suspected, is the twentieth anniversary of 9/11. The images of a smoldering wing of the Pentagon and the hellish explosions that engulfed the Twin Towers in flames are seared indelibly in my memory, as they are I many of yours. 

The second occasion this month is an ancient feast in both the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches, known alternately as the Exaltation of the Holy Cross and the Triumph of the Cross. This year, we will celebrate the Triumph of the Cross on September 14.

What do the Triumph of the Cross and the anniversary of 9/11have in common? The short answer is tragedy and triumph. Let me try to explain by means of a personal story.

Exactly one year after the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers, the Soldiers of Christ of Lafayette, Louisiana contacted Chaminade, because they wanted to do something for the folks up North who had lost a loved one in the attack on the World Trade Center. The Soldiers of Christ were total strangers. We had never met them before. But we were not strangers for long; we soon became brothers and sisters in Christ, united by the power of the Cross, a bond stronger than blood.

And so, in November of 2002, a group of us traveled to Lafayette, Louisiana. I was privileged to accompany four young men – Greg, John, Kevin, and Charlie – on the trip.

Shortly after our plane touched down in Lafayette, at about 10:30 at night, we were greeted at the gate by about two dozen Soldiers of Christ – young men and young women in high school and college, their parents, and their adult leaders – with balloons and posters and banners and hugs and the repeated recitation of the sound “chau,” apparently a Louisiana expression of compassion and solidarity.

And for the next four days, we were showered with good old Southern hospitality – all because these Soldiers of Christ wanted to reach out halfway across the country with the healing power of the Cross. We toured the Louisiana Bayou on one of those flatbed speedboats powered by an enormous fan. We attended prayer services and high-school rallies and Masses. The boys were interviewed on Lafayette’s own television morning news show. And every meal was a banquet of savory Cajun cooking: scrambled eggs, bacon, and grits; corn dogs and soda pop; jambalaya, rice, and red beans; shrimp étouffée and buttery biscuits; pralines and pecan pie.

You see, John and Kevin had lost their uncles in 9/11; Greg and Charlie their dads. But thanks to the good people of Lafayette, Louisiana, they gained a family of brothers and sisters in Christ.

I remember our return to New York so vividly, as if it were yesterday. Again – somehow, I don’t know quite how – all the Soldiers of Christ had gained access to our departure gate to see us off. We formed a large circle and held hands, and those newfound brothers and sisters of ours prayed over us, sang songs, embraced us – yes, in a big group hug – and uttered their final “chaus.”

And, all of a sudden, Charlie, a sophomore at the time, burst into tears, a torrent of tears – not tears of bitterness or anger; not quite tears of joy; but tears of release, of liberation, of knowing that his life had indeed been forever changed by the loss of his father on 9/11; but that it was ok, that he was going to be alright, that he was loved, loved very deeply, not only by the Soldiers of Christ, but by Christ Himself and by his two fathers in heaven – by his earthly father . . . and his heavenly Father.

That, my friends, is the power of the Cross. The healing power of the Cross. The saving power of the Cross. It is but one example of the Triumph of the Cross.

My dear friends, consider the Cross. Behold its horizontal beam – and, nailed to that beam, Christ’s arms – stretched open wide, as if to say, “I love you, I embrace you, I stand beside you in every difficulty – every cross – you bear.” And this is what I want to leave you with today – this guarantee, this promise: Whatever cross you bear – if a family member or friend is very sick; if your parents are fighting – a lot; if you are battling depression, or struggling with what is beginning to look like an addiction to alcohol or drugs or pornography; if the loss of a loved one, perhaps a parent, grieves your heart – know that Christ stands beside you, that the healing power of the Cross will bear you up. Know that Mary, Our Blessed Mother, who stood at the foot of the Cross – her heart broken – stands beside you, taking your cares and concerns into her immaculate, maternal heart.

This is the power of the Cross. This is the promise of the Christ. Turn to Jesus in prayer when your cross seems too heavy to bear. Turn to Jesus’ adopted brothers and sisters – to all of us, to the Church. It is the power of the Cross that empowers us to help one another in our time of need, just as those Soldiers of Christ in Lafayette, Louisiana consoled Greg and John, Kevin and Charlie.

I promise you this; I guarantee you this: If you turn to Jesus and His Blessed Mother in your time of need, if you turn to one of us for advice and counsel, help and hope, you will experience the power of the Cross. I know I speak for every one of my Marianist Brothers and every one of my lay colleagues – in fact, for the entire Marianist Family – when I make this bold guarantee.

My friends, consider your lives. Consider the stories of heroism and healing that have emerged from September 11th, 2001. And consider the two wooden crossbeams we find in our homes, in our classrooms, atop every one of our Churches, and at every one of our altars. Then you will experience the power of the Cross. Then – then – you will truly know the Triumph of the Cross.

On behalf of all my Marianist Brothers,

Bro. Stephen

Thursday, September 9, 2021

Schools open 2

“It is best to choose leniency in discipline, rather than harsh methods.”

Blessed William Joseph Chaminade