Anointing the Sick

 

We ended our mission at St. Theresa’s Parish in Staten Island this evening by celebrating the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick and the Sacrament of the Eucharist. Both sacraments are special moments that tell us God is present. They’re simple signs; we must  not  miss their meaning.

Tonight we began the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick with a story of Jesus healing the sick. That’s one of the most important things his disciples remembered: he healed the sick. Jesus put his hands on them, he spoke to them, he helped them get back into life, and he still does that today.

One of Jesus’ first healings was of Peter’s mother-in-law who had a fever. Mark’s gospel recalls it in a few words:

“On leaving the synagogue he entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left her and she waited on them.” (Mark 1,30-31)

Rembrandt’s drawing above captures one detail from Mark’s narrative. “He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up.” Such a simple gesture. Jesus took her hand and raised her up.

The priest puts his hand on our head. It’s God giving us a hand. It’s a reminder, too, to give a hand to others to help them up. A simple sign, yes, but Jesus left it to us as an example.

What Jesus did, he told his disciples to do. “ He summoned the Twelve* and began to send them out two by two… They drove out many demons, and they anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.” (Mark 6, 13-14)

We anoint with olive oil, the medicine people turned to in Jesus’ time, the oil the Samaritan put on the man who was beaten by robbers in the Lord’s parable. God’s our medicine, first of all, but the oil is also a practical reminder: Don’t forget to take your medicine.

The priest anoints our forehead with oil in the form of a cross and says: “Through this holy anointing, may the Lord in his love and mercy help you with the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

Isn’t is true that the battle against sickness and human weakness often takes place most vigorously in our minds, where we fight fear, discouragement, a sense of being alone? This anointing calls for the grace of the Holy Spirit to guide and strengthen our minds and the way we think.

The priest anoints our hands with oil in the form of a cross and says: “May the Lord who frees you from sin, save you and raise you up.” Our hands are the signs of our strength. “Prosper the work of our hands,” one of our psalms says. We do so much with our hands. In the Anointing of the Sick God takes our hands to raise them up. The anointing is not limited to this life, though.

Like all the sacraments, it promises a share in the mystery of the Resurrection of Jesus.

 

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In Gratitude for His Love

In today’s Gospel (Jn 3: 16-21 ) Jesus has just finished telling Nicodemus about His coming Passion : ” And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. ” ( v.v., 14-15 ) . Then Jesus goes on to say :

” For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him
might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to
condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. ” ( v.v., 16-17 )

This is one of the great statements  in the Gospels which clearly indicates that the Passion and death of our Lord up on that cross was, more than anything, an act of Divine love, love for us, sinful humanity, so undeserving of His mercy.
I walk in this world, seeing all the evil and darkness that cause so much suffering and death, and wonder why God has kept us from extinction for so long. I walk in the world, knowing that I have done various things that hurt others and myself, and although I am so grateful for all the wonderful things that God has given me in my life, I see that I did not deserve them. Frankly, if my life were to end in oblivion and darkness, I would not think it unfair.
Yet I realize that I am so loved, with an immense love that is beyond my understanding. Why do you cherish us like this, my God? Creation already is so magnificent. Human life can feel so wonderful, even the simple act of breathing. And You, dear Lord, offer us an entranceway, a gate into yet another unexpected realm of existence beyond our comprehension : eternal life….. with You !
This entrance, this gateway is the bloodstained cross of Jesus, our beloved savior, friend, human being, God all-powerful. I am not going to start, like I often do, questioning : Why this terrible Passion of our Lord? Why this mercy for us? Why do so many reject it? Are they hopelessly condemned?… and so on. Today I just want to go on my knees and simply thank you again and again, Great One. You have suffered and died for me. You have saved me. You have turned my stubborn head around and made me one of those who believe in You. You have enabled me to see You as the truth, and to experience the joy of living in You, and living for You! Lord, have mercy on those that don’t know You. Help me be strong, to be an instrument of Your salvation and preach by example :

” Whoever lives the truth comes to the light, so that his works may be clearly seen as done in God.” ( v.21 )

Orlando Hernandez

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Jesus, the Teacher

 

This evening at our mission at St. Theresa’s Parish in Staten Island, NY, I spoke about Jesus, the Teacher. I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd. For one thing, the crowd around him seems to represent all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John may be there, but they don’t seem to stand out. Maybe some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. And Jesus teaches them.

Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If that’s so, this crowd could be us.

Luke’s gospel seems a lot like this painting to me. In much of Luke’s gospel Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and as he goes his way he calls everybody to follow him. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people in every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.

It was not just to see him die that he calls them to follow him, but to go with him onto glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, which means he goes to those who have been waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls to all, to them and to us, to follow him.

What does following Jesus mean? I spoke of two things. Jesus said to follow him we must take up our cross each day. He also said we must become like little children. He taught us about spiritual childhood.

 

 

 

 

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The Easter Season: a School of Faith

Nicodemus

Nicodemus reminds us that faith doesn’t depend on how sharp our minds are or how many books we’ve read. Faith is God’s gift to us. We are all still in the school of faith.

On Friday of the Second Week of Easter we begin reading from John’s gospel about Jesus multiplying the loaves and fish near the Sea of Galilee. (John 6) There’s a lot of unbelief in the crowd that Jesus feeds, according to John. “Many of his disciples drew back and no longer went about with him,” . Besides those who radically reject Jesus’ claim to be the bread come down from heaven,  others appear to have little appreciation for this great sign. Commentators suspect this this section of John’s gospel may indicate there were troubles over the Eucharist and over the identity of Jesus in the churches John is writing for.

Most of the gospel readings for the last weeks of the Easter season are taken from the Farewell Discourse in John’s gospel. There too the disciples seem far from perfect. They’re fearful, they seem to understand Jesus so little. He calls them “little children,”  not far removed from the children making their Communion this season.

Perfect believers  are few in the gospels of our Easter season. Plenty of imperfect believers, like us, which tells us that faith is something to pray and struggle for. More importantly, they reveal the goodness of Jesus, who gave the wounds in his hands and his side to Thomas, who never dismissed Nicodemus to the night, who came to table with his disciples and fed them again, who called them “his own” and prayed that they would not fail.

We enter a school of faith in the Easter season where the Risen Christ speaks to us in signs like water, bread and wine, words that promise a world beyond ours and teach us how to live in our world today.  He is our Teacher and Lord.

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St. Theresa, Staten Island

The Archdiocese of New York has a renewal program called Revive taking place in its parishes this year. The program comprises a reading from scripture, a sermon on the purpose of life, a witness talk, prayers and hymns.

This week, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at 6 PM, I’m taking part in the Revive program at St. Theresa Church in Staten Island. I’m giving the sermon and will be offering some of the prayers.

Here’s the way I opened our mission this evening:

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Welcoming the Night Visitor

cross 2

We heard from Thomas, doubting Thomas, on Sunday. For the next few days of this week’s readings, he’s joined by Nicodemus, a teacher in Israel, fluent in religious matters. Is it fear or indecision that causes him to come to Jesus at night? Yet Jesus meets him at night. (John 3)

 He asks Jesus questions but doesn’t seem to understand his answers. “How can this happen?”  Nicodemus proves that Thomas isn’t the only skeptic, an isolated dissenter. Others also  are slow to believe.  They’re reminders of the recurrent skepticism in us all.

Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea– a member of the Jewish ruling party and another hesitant believer – finally come forward at Jesus’ death when Joseph asks Pilate for his body. Nicodemus brings an abundance of spices for his burial. Leaving the dark, they follow Jesus openly in the light. Here is how John describes them:

“After this, Joseph of Arimathea, secretly a disciple of Jesus for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate if he could remove the body of Jesus. And Pilate permitted it. So he came and took his body.
Nicodemus, the one who had first come to him at night, also came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes weighing about one hundred pounds.
They took the body of Jesus and bound it with burial cloths along with the spices, according to the Jewish burial custom.
Now in the place where he had been crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been buried.
So they laid Jesus there because of the Jewish preparation day; for the tomb was close by. “
(John 19, 39-42)

John’s account sees Jesus’ death as a dark time bathed in glory. The abundance of spices Nicodemus brings makes Jesus’ burial a kingly burial. The new tomb in a garden suggests already something wonderful  about to happen.

The Risen Jesus is an abiding presence, making even darkness bright.  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.” (John 3,17)

“Everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.” Even reluctant, hesitant believers, like Joseph and Nicodemus.

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Weekday Readings: Second Week of Easter

Monday Acts 4,23-31; John 3,1-8
Tuesday Acts 4,32-37; John 3, 7-15
Wednesday Acts 5,17-26; John 3, 16-21
Thursday Acts 5, 27-33; John 3,31-36
Friday Acts 5,34-42; John 6,1-15
Saturday Acts 6,1-7; John 6, 16-21

The church grows gradually after the resurrection, according to the Acts of the Apostles. Its first leaders, the apostles Peter and John, still  go up regularly to the temple in Jerusalem to pray and give witness to Jesus by words and healing signs. This second week of Easter our readings from Acts are about their conflict with the temple leaders and the gathering of believers around them.

The temple leadership sees them as “uneducated, ordinary men,” but they boldly continue to proclaim God’s mighty works in Jesus Christ. Told to end their witness, they cannot. “It is impossible for us not to speak about what we have seen and heard.”

Monday’s reading from Acts, describes the apostles’ return “to their own people” who recognize that the temple authorities are acting toward them as they, along with Pilate and Herod, had acted toward Jesus. As they pray, the Holy Spirit tells them to continue “to speak the word of God.”

In the gospel readings from Monday to Thursday, Jesus engages Nicodemus, the Jewish leader who comes to him by night. A well-informed religious man, Nicodemus hardly understands  Jesus Christ.

On Friday we read of the miracle of the loaves from John’s gospel,  chapter 6, an important reading for the Easter season. The reading, which  continues into the following week, sees mystery of the Eucharist playing a major role in the Easter season. It is one of the great signs that Jesus remains with us.

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