17th Sunday C: Are Prayers Answered?

Audio version of homily here:

Two wonderful readings in today’s Mass for the 17th Sunday of the Year. (Genesis 18,20-32,Luke 11, 1–13)

The Genesis story says that God came down to stand with Abraham before two notorious cities, Sodom and Gomorrah, that stood near the Dead Sea. Should these places be destroyed? God comes down and looks at these evil cities with Abraham at his side.

Not a pretty picture, the two cities where corruption and evil of every kind have taken hold. We might imagine seeing the same picture in some places we know today.

But Abraham speaks up for them, and how familiarly he speaks to God! “Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to make the innocent die with the guilty so that the innocent and the guilty would be treated alike! Should not the judge of all the world act with justice?”

How simply they talk together. “How about 45 people? How about 30, 20, 10,” Abraham asks? “I would save the city for 10,” God says at the end.

We’re told something about God here. God certainly doesn’t want the world destroyed, even if evil seems so bold and prevalent. God who made heaven and earth stands with us as we look regularly at our world, seeing what we see and even more. God wants to save what God has made.

We’re also told something about how we as human beings should face evil in our society as we listen to Abraham, our father in faith. He stays hopeful about the world he lived in, even at its worse. He wants to save it too. Shouldn’t we follow him?

Notice Luke’s version of the Our Father in the gospel for today. Unlike Matthew, Luke omits the phrase “who art in heaven.” Does the evangelist want us to know that God is not a distant God, far away and unavailable–in heaven? God is the Father standing at our side, looking on the same reality we do. A Father who gives us daily bread and nourishment, who opens the door we think is closed. A constant watchful parent, ever present, never far away.

These readings invite us to pray to God in a familiar way when we face evil in our world. That advice might not be a popular today. Recent surveys of religious belief say that many Americans believe in God, but does that mean they believe in a familiar God, like the God revealed in our two readings today? Or is God simply unknowable, maybe possible, uncertain, or someone for an emergency? Is God someone we can talk to as we face hard days, and does God answer our prayers?

In facing the violence and hard times of today, we often hear calls for prayer, but today you also hear some say: “Forget about prayer, let’s do something about it.”

If we hear our first reading for today, Abraham’s prayer was doing something about it. His prayer came from his concern and love for people and cities dsperately in need. And God was not unconcerned either, if we understand our reading right. God hears.

Prayer is not something we should forget about. It’s the most important step to take when we need to be delivered from evil.

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Friday Thoughts: Being qua Being


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Learn from the way the wild flowers grow.

—Matthew 6:28


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Does a flower make pronouncements? Does it define itself? Does it box itself in with titles, names, and distinctions?

And yet, “not even Solomon in all his splendor was clothed like one of these.” (Matthew 6:29)

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A flower simply exists.

And its existence glorifies God.

There is no need for it to do more.

By its very existence it magnifies what cannot be further magnified: God’s Presence, God’s Glory, God’s Beauty…

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“I’m a flower.”

“I’m a rose.”

“Look at me!”

Statements such as these we shall never hear.

Flowers are divinely indifferent to the world’s definitions and distinctions, to its approval and applause.

After all, it’s a person who receives the medal at an orchid show, and not the flower herself. No, her finely-placed petals would only be weighed down by such metallic-based ribbons.

What a gift it is to simply exist.

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Flowers don’t cling to seasonal life.

When it’s time to go, they gracefully drop their heads and lose their pedals.

Never has there existed a man as poor as a flower.

Never has mankind so possessed the richness of fleeting, transitory, and momentary life.

It’s their genius to instinctively believe that death leads to new abundant life.

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Flowers graciously receive:

Ladybugs, drops of dew. Beams of light, the relief of shade.

Flowers give and receive as if not a single thing has ever been made by man.

They welcome sun as well as rain.

They never cry over fallen fruit or a stolen piece of pollen.

They quietly applaud instead, rejoicing that their little ones have the opportunity to travel abroad—perhaps even the chance to help nurture a neighbor.

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A flower, perhaps most of all, knows it place.

It never wishes to be bigger or thinner…greener or higher…it never dreams of being more like a tree.

A flower’s blessing is simplicity beyond you and me.

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Christ is a flower.

He is the one true perfect eternal flower, through whom all other flowers partake, toward whom all other flowers reach.

Christ is a flower. His ways are not our own. He simply exists. Bowing His head. Dropping pedals. Feeding hungry bees. Giving and receiving. His identity is crucified—leaving nothing behind but being “qua” being.


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If God so clothes the grass of the field, which grows today and is thrown into the oven tomorrow, will he not much more provide for you, O you of little faith?

—Matthew 6:30


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—Howard Hain
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(Dedicated to Brother Jim, a man who knew how to simply exist.)

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Mary Magdalene

John_20_15

St. Gregory the Great  got it wrong when he identified Mary Magdalene with the sinful woman mentioned in the gospel stories and with Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.  Yet,  his description of her spirituality is right on.

Here’s an excerpt from Gregory’s beautiful sermon in today’s Liturgy of the Hours:

“We should reflect on Mary’s attitude and the great love she felt for Christ; for though the disciples had left the tomb, she remained. She was still seeking the one she had not found, and while she sought she wept; burning with the fire of love, she longed for him who she thought had been taken away. And so it happened that the woman who stayed behind to seek Christ was the only one to see him. For perseverance is essential to any good deed, as the voice of truth tells us: Whoever perseveres to the end will be saved.

“At first she sought but did not find, but when she persevered it happened that she found what she was looking for. When our desires are not satisfied, they grow stronger, and becoming stronger they take hold of their object. Holy desires likewise grow with anticipation, and if they do not grow they are not really desires. Anyone who succeeds in attaining the truth has burned with such a great love. As David says: My soul has thirsted for the living God; when shall I come and appear before the face of God? And so also in the Song of Songs the Church says: I was wounded by love; and again: My soul is melted with love.

“Woman, why are you weeping? Whom do you seek? She is asked why she is sorrowing so that her desire might be strengthened; for when she mentions whom she is seeking, her love is kindled all the more ardently.

“Jesus says to her: Mary. Jesus is not recognized when he calls her “woman”; so he calls her by name, as though he were saying: Recognize me as I recognize you; for I do not know you as I know others; I know you as yourself. And so Mary, once addressed by name, recognizes who is speaking. She immediately calls him rabboni, that is to say, teacher, because the one whom she sought outwardly was the one who inwardly taught her to keep on searching.”

Some recently, using flimsy evidence from gnostic writings of the 3rd and 4th century, want to “de-mythologize” Jesus and romanticize his relationship with Mary. Some claim he was even married to her. Their claims have been sensationalized in the  media and unfortunately get a wide hearing.

Better to listen to the four gospels and the evidence of the New Testament. They recognize Mary as a disciple who loved Jesus and one of his many women followers. Their witness is older and more reliable. There’s also new archeological evidence about Magdala, Mary’s hometown, that helps us understand Mary Magdalene. Take a look.

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Is God at the Convention?

Our political conventions are beginning. A time, especially this year, when we wonder about our future. No perfect candidates, no perfect plans, no perfect solution. Should we pay any attention at all?

I’m thinking of John Henry Newman, the illustrious 19th century English theologian who converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism in 1845. An Italian Passionist priest, Fr. Dominic Barbari, received him into the church.

Newman’s conversion came through his efforts to bring the Church of England, then struggling against the rationalism of the Enlightenment, back to its orthodox Christian roots. He sought the answer in studying  early Christianity and its development to the present day. The Oxford Movement begun by Newman and other university friends strongly affected the Anglican church and other Christian churches of his time.

Originally convinced that the Catholic Church was corrupt and unfaithful to the gospel, Newman came to accept it as the Church founded by Jesus Christ. An important reason for his acceptance was his study of the Donatists, a 4th century Christian group that split from the larger church over who should be members of the church. The Donatists believed that the church should be a church of saints, not sinners.

Newman came to understand that the Church develops over time, and its development takes place in the real world, which is the world of saints and sinners. The spirituality he arrived at was anchored in this reality. We live in a world of weeds and wheat. “Nothing would be done at all if one waited until one could do it so well that no one could find fault with it.” We don’t live in a perfect world or a perfect church.

The world we live in is blessed by God with a purpose and a mission. No, it’s not perfect nor will it ever be perfect.We may cringe at the circus our political world can create these next few weeks. But that doesn’t mean we don’t try to make politics live up to its ideals. In all the hoopla God is at work.

 

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16th Sunday: Martha and Mary

Martha Mary 2

To listen to today’s homily, select the audio file below:

This Sunday at Mass we read from the Gospel of Luke about the visit of Jesus to Martha and Mary.

It’ s hard for us to keep the gospels separate and let each evangelist tell the story he wants to tell, and so when we hear about Martha and Mary in Luke’s gospel, we can’t help but think about the Martha and Mary in John’s gospel, who live in Bethany, whose brother Lazarus dies and whom Jesus will raise from the dead.

In John’s gospel Martha seems to shine, as she runs to meet Jesus and expresses her faith  when her brother dies:

“’Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.’

“Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise.’ Martha said to him, ‘I know he will rise, in the resurrection on the last day.’

Jesus told her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live,kand everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”* lShe said to him, ‘Yes, Lord. I have come to believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who is coming into the world.’” (John 11, 21-27)

You can’t ask for a stronger expression of faith than that, can you?

But Luke presents the two women differently in his gospel. So let’s hear his story. This is the only mention Luke makes of Martha and Mary in his gospel. It’s all he tells us about them. He doesn’t say they live in Bethany or that they have a brother named Lazarus who died and was raised.

No, this story is part of Luke’s journey narrative of Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. Luke wants to tell us that Jesus the prophet is making his way to Jerusalem and when he enters your house you should listen to him. That’s what Mary does, she listens to him. Martha is too concerned with taking care of things and she misses what he says.

I suppose we can say that like Martha we can get so caught up with what we’re doing that we miss what Jesus the prophet wants to say to us. We might be doing very good things, but we all need to listen more. We might be the best people, but even the best people may not listen enough.

Still, I  find it hard not to praise  Martha as we listen to Luke’s gospel. St. Augustine obviously had a soft spot for her. He says that Martha cared for the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. “She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.

“Martha, if I may say so, you will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarrelling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”

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Friday Thoughts: Pray the Mass

Paul Cézanne Bathers (Les Grandes Baigneuses) 1895-1905

Paul Cezanne, “Bathers” (Les Grandes Baigneuses), 1895-1905 

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“Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing. In all circumstances give thanks, for this is the will of God for you in Christ Jesus.”

—1 Thessalonians 5:17


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Come with me. I love to go. I so love to go. The Mass in its abundant overflow.
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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…” (John 3:16)
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Come with me. It doesn’t matter what language you speak, nor what color skin your flesh happens to wear. Come. Be one with the Lord.

Pray the great prayer of the Church. Pray with sinners like me. Pray with all God’s Angels and Saints.

Pray the Mass. O, how God loves for us to share, to participate in Christ’s salvation of the world!

Living sacrifices. Gifts of bread and wine.

Come. Come. He is so very real. So much love. His Liturgy kisses each individual brow.

Begin your day by adjusting your ear…

If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” (Psalm 95)

Pray the Mass. Live it at home. Hour by hour. Minute by minute. Work through the Mass as you work through your day—knowing that the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is being celebrated at every moment throughout the entire world.

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“The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.”
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Antiphon to Antiphon. Introductory to Concluding Rites. Let the Mass order your day.

The Sign of the Cross upon opening your eyes.

“Kyrie, eleison…”, as you rise from bed.

A morning shower beneath God’s infinite reign of mercy: “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

Read. Confess. Sing. Proclaim.

Wash the dishes. Run to the store.

Always praise. Yes, always praise: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to people of good will.”

Head to work. Attend a meeting. Go for a run.

“Alleluia, alleluia”:  The Gospel Acclamation.

It’s almost high noon. Enjoy the Sun. The light of God’s face. Hear the Holy Spirit’s instruction and inspiration for the day. Hold up your wounds, pray in union with God’s Crucified Child…

Offer the Universal Prayer while waiting for the bus…

Intercede for the entire world: the salvation of souls, the conversion of sinners, a unified church, the remembered and forgotten souls in purgatorial fire…

…for the sick, the persecuted, the poor, the imprisoned, the hungry, the thirsty…for every single soul for whom God wills us to pray…

For all the intentions of Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart.

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“I believe in one God…”

Time for lunch.

Prepare the table. Acknowledge God’s goodness. Accept His gifts:

“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ…”

Live. Breathe. Be free and at ease.

Let the Eucharistic Prayer flow into the core of your being:

“Lift up your hearts. We lift them up to the Lord…”

“…Holy, Holy, Holy Lord God of hosts…”

Watch as angels ascend and descend…your gifts borne “by the hands of God’s holy Angel to His altar on high…”

A priest at this very moment lifts the hands of Christ:

“Through him, and with him, and in him…”

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Afternoon arrives:

“Behold the Lamb of God.”

Ask Jesus to come into your soul. Properly position yourself at the foot of the table:

“Lord, I am not worthy…but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.”

Jesus thirsts to enter. Learn to open wide. Beg God on bended knee. Beg Him for the grace to generously give and graciously receive:

“The Body of Christ.

The Blood of Christ.”

“Amen.

Amen.”

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Sitting in traffic. Waiting on a call. Wanting to get home.

“Period of silence or song of praise.”

Rest beneath the external chaos, enter the internal peace of the Kingdom that resides deep within. Remember that Jesus—Body, Blood, Soul, Divinity—continues to transform your entire being.

Stop and go. Almost home. Evening approaches.

The prayers the priest says quietly at the altar—pray them too—ceaselessly in the silence of your consecrated heart.

“Lord Jesus Christ…free me by this, your most holy Body and Blood…

…keep me always faithful…never let me be parted from you.”

Park the car. Say hello to a man who’s homeless. Briefly visit a confused elderly neighbor. Prepare to sit peacefully around your kitchen table. Practice patience. Hug and kiss the kids. Allow the joy of Christ to radiate outward from the eternal spring within.

At the close of supper, give great thanks, and call to mind an after-communion prayer:

“What has passed our lips as food, O Lord, may we possess in purity of heart, that what has been given to us in time may be our healing for eternity.”

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Now circle around and approach the end of this blessed day much like the way you began—for somewhere out there—Mass is just about to begin:

“The Lord be with you. And with your spirit.”

Brush your teeth. Prepare to sleep the sleep of a most blessed mystical death. Ask Mother Mary to help you dress for the flight.

“May almighty God bless you, the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

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Kiss your wife goodnight.

Turn off the lamp.

Close your eyes in God’s perfect peace. The Mass at your right hand. Its liturgical rhythm steadily beating within your sacred heart.

Darkness descends.

“Go forth, the Mass is ended.”

The best is yet to come.

Faith. Hope. Love.

Eternal Life.

And as always: “Thanks be to God.”


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“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son…”

—John 3:16


 

—Howard Hain
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(Note: All italicized quotations are from The Order of Mass, unless otherwise indicated.)
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What Happened to the Native Peoples?

H.Hudson halfmoon
Our celebrant began Mass today remembering the Spanish, the Dutch, the French and the English who came to the New World as colonists and conquerors, engaging the native peoples and settling in the lands where they lived.

“Lord, have mercy.” For the injustices against the native peoples and the land God provided here.

The native peoples are often forgotten in the story of the “discovery” of America. Our heroes tend to be the settlers who came on ships, built towns and cities, explored the land and gave us what we have today. But it came at a price.

The smallpox that disfigured and partially blinded Kateri Tekakwitha, who lived along the Mohawk River past Albany, NY, was brought to this continent by European settlers. Diseases like it brought death to large numbers of the native peoples. Wars and greed for Indian lands caused further diminishment among them.
Museum of American Indian

If you visit New York harbor by way of the Staten Island Ferry look towards the various shores , once the lands where native peoples fished, hunted and traded. The water was fresher then, fish and shellfish plentiful, the air cleaner, the earth less damaged by human activity.

The National Museum of the American Indian, located in the old customs house across from Battery Park near the ferry, is a good place to remember the place of the native peoples in the story of America. They were the first the Europeans traded with; they were the guides into an unknown land; they provided some of the foods that fed growing populations in Europe and America. Their respect for the land was greater than those who came here.

At the museum I always remember Father Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit missionary, who was eventually killed by the Mohawks at Ossernonon (Auriesville). Previously, he fled from Indian captivity and came to New Amsterdam (New York) where he was put on a ship for France by a kindly Dutch minister. Dedicated to the native people, he returned hoping to bring them the Christian faith.

Civilizations clashed when Europeans and native peoples first met.

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