Song at Daybreak

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Does ordinary time, the days after Pentecost, mean that every day is the same? They’re not. Graces, challenges,  joys and sorrows,  hints of things, “our daily bread” are all there. We have to notice them. The Carmelite nun, Jessica Powers, ends one of her poems calling the day  “my beautiful unknown.” We just need eyes to see and ears to hear

SONG AT DAYBREAK

This morning on the way

that yawns with light across the eastern sky

and lifts its bright arms high –

It may bring hours disconsolate or gay,

I do not know, but this much I can say:

It will be unlike any other day.

 

God lives in his surprise and variation.

No leaf is matched, no star is shaped to star.

No soul is like my soul in all creation

though I may search afar.

There is something -anquish or elation-

that is peculiar to this day alone.

I rise from sleep and say: Hail to the morning!

Come down to me, my beautiful unknown.

 

Jessica Powers

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St. Philip Neri, (1515-1595)

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Philip Neri, whose feast is celebrated today, is an interesting saint. Some rank him with Peter and Paul, founders of the church of Rome, because Philip was a powerful force in reforming the Roman church then reeling from the Protestant reformation.

Philip came to Rome as a young man and fell in love with the city’s history and holy places. He spent long hours in its ancient churches as a priest and roamed the catacombs of St. Sebastian where early Christians were buried. He became a regular guide for pilgrims searching for their spiritual roots. A familiar figure on the Roman streets, he would engage ordinary Romans, especially the young, who warmed to his cheerfulness and found hope in his simple words. He knew how to listen to them.

Uncovering  forgotten lessons in the art and monuments of the city, Philip became a guide and inspiration to saints like Ignatius Loyola, Charles Borromeo and Pius V. He constantly made new friends as he shared the beauty of the holy city, especially  the great churches of St.Peter’s, St.Paul outside the Walls, St. Lawrence, St. Sebastian, Holy Cross, St. John Lateran and St. Mary Major, still the major pilgrim churches of the city today.

Protestants at the time were turning from theology to history to back up their claims against the Catholic Church. Philip encouraged Catholic historians like Caesar Baronius to research the history of the church with fairness and accuracy. Baronius once said of him: “I love the man especially because he wants the truth and doesn’t permit falsehood of any kind.” He also supported Galileo: “The bible teaches the way to go to heaven, not the way the heavens go.”

Philip thought that church reform could come about best through seeking the beauty of faith in its art, music and tradition. He promoted study of the church’s history at a time when the Catholic Church needed to examine its traditions and roots. He saw gentleness, cheerfulness and friendship as the way to Christian reform at a time when fierce controversy between Protestants and Catholics was the norm.   He was unassuming. A biographer said that “ his aim was to do much without appearing to do anything.”

He died in Rome on May 26, 1595, at eighty years of age.

The great scholar John Henry Newman was attracted to the spirit of Philip Neri and entered the religious society he founded, the Oratorians.

Here’s one of his prayers I like: ” Let me get through today, and I shall not fear tomorrow.”

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Ordinary Time

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The Easter season is over after the Feast of Pentecost and we’re into ordinary time in the church year. Unlike other feasts, Pentecost has no octave; ordinary time is its octave. Truth to be told, most of the church year, like most of life, is ordinary time, and that means it’s the time of the Holy Spirit.

The best place to look for the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives in ordinary time is probably the scriptures at Pentecost. Some of them recall the Spirit’s dramatic appearance, but others remind us that the Spirit comes quietly, when we’re hardly aware.

“Their message goes out to all the earth,” to Asia Minor, to Rome, Africa, Asia. Occasionally, the Spirit works like this in the church and in the world.

But more often the Holy Spirit comes quietly as an everyday gift. We may prefer strong winds and tongues of fire, but the Spirit mostly comes quietly, in ordinary time.

We’re tend to minimize ordinary time. So ordinary. Nothing’s happening, we say. Yet, day by day in ordinary time the Risen Lord offers his peace and shows us his wounds. Every day he breathes the Spirit on us. No day goes by without the Spirit’s quiet blessing.

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Pentecost

 

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


According to the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Spirit dramatically appears to Jesus’ disciples on the Jewish feast of Pentecost, fifty days after Passover. (Acts 2,1-11) Originally Pentecost was a harvest feast celebrating the fruitfulness of creation, and so appropriately signs of creation come from the sky– fire, noise like a mighty wind– announcing the coming of the Holy Spirit who renews the face of the earth. By the time of Jesus, the Pentecost feast was also a celebration of the covenant made by God with Israel after the Passover. On this day, the Spirit offers God’s covenant to all peoples and promises to renew all creation.

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples of Jesus immediately and confidently leave the upper room and preach the gospel to pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem from the ends of the earth for the feast. “Where did these Galileans get all this?” their hearers ask “as they hear them speaking in their own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” They’re the first to bring the message of Jesus to faraway peoples in Mesopotamia, Judea, Egypt, Rome. This was a remarkable event.

On Pentecost as we participate in this feast we look for the graces to boldly and confidently bring the gospel to all peoples and to all creation through the Spirit given to us.

The Holy Spirit came on Pentecost over 2,000 years ago. We can ask: Is its promise being fulfilled? Today, recent studies say there are over 6 billion people in our world, 2 billion of them are Christian– about one out of three. Christians are evenly dispersed through the world, studies say, and their numbers are growing in Sub Saharan Africa and the Asia Pacific regions. The Holy Spirit seems to be at work in our world.

Of course, we tend to want the kingdom of God to come more quickly and dramatically, we want the fireworks of Pentecost everyday, but the Spirit of God works slowly and silently, with a wisdom all God’s own. In John’s gospel, which we also read on the Feast of Pentecost, the Risen Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to his disciples when he appears to them on Easter Sunday evening. (John 20,19-23) Locked in a room in fear, fallen and dispirited, the disciples expect nothing, perhaps even that things will get worse. Then, Jesus appears, wishes them peace and shows them the wounds in his hands and side. He breathes on them and says “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

What’s quieter, simpler than that? He breathes the Spirit on them. He shows them the wounds in his hands and side, signs that everything that evil could do to him was done to him. Yet he conquers every evil, even death. The Spirit always comes through the wounds of Christ. The Spirit is at work in the darkness of our world.

In our liturgy we have the same quiet promise of the Spirit. “Like the dewfall” the Spirit comes upon the bread and wine, signs of creation, and transforms them in the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ. The Spirit rests in the waters of Baptism, in the signs of the other sacraments, creating, healing, forgiving, bringing together a world that’s divided. The Holy Spirit is God’s everyday gift, and no day is without his sure, silent, powerful presence.

Behind the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica in Rome, the artist Bernini created a beautiful alabaster window where a steady light pours into the dark church through the image of the Holy Spirit, in the hovering form of a dove.

Day by day, the light comes quietly through the window. Day by day, the Holy Spirit dispenses light for the moment, graces for the world that is now. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit dwells with us, his final gift.

Come, Holy Spirit, come!
Shed a ray of light divine!
Come Father of the poor!
Heal our wounds, our strength renew;
On our dryness pour your dew;
Wash the stains of guild away;
Bend the stubborn heart and will;
Melt the frozen, warm the chill,
Guide the steps that go astray.

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Like a Dove

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In his commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel, Luke Timothy Johnson seems puzzled by the evangelist’s description of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan: “and the Holy Spirit descended on him with the physical shape of a dove.” Instead of a physical dove, Mark and other evangelists describe the Spirit descending “like a dove.” Do they suggest that the Spirit descends softly, quietly on Jesus as he goes into the water? What’s the explanation? “Such is the nature of symbols–all are possible,” Johnson writes.

Observing two doves, regular visitors outside my window, I notice how confident and unafraid they seem, so different from the chattering sparrows flitting from place to place. As far as I can see, the doves are without the usual signs of power, sharp talons and strong wings. What’s their secret? St. Gregory of Nyssa seems to point to the fearlessness of doves in his Commentary on the Song of Songs:

“When love has entirely cast out fear, and fear has been transformed into love, then the unity brought by our Savior will be realized, for all will be united with one another through their union with the supreme Good. They will possess the perfection ascribed to the dove, according to our interpretation of the text “one alone is my dove, my perfect one.”
Gregory of Nyssa

A love not afraid of chaos brings peace. A fearless, humble love brings people together. Is that why Noah chose the dove to go into the world engulfed by the flood and not a lion or an eagle? Such is the nature of symbols–all explanations are possible.

Behind the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica in Rome, the artist Bernini created the beautiful alabaster window where a steady light pours into the dark church through the image of the Holy Spirit, in the hovering form of a dove. Light and water are favorite symbols of the Holy Spirit.

Day by day, the light comes quietly through the window. Day by day, the Holy Spirit dispenses light for the moment, graces for the world that is now. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit dwells with us, his final gift.

The Feast of Pentecost is this Sunday.

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Lamp for a Dark Place

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Sometimes, the sky over the boardwalk at Spring Lake, New Jersey gets swept with colors before nightfall, when the only light  will come  from a lamp that shines through the night.

St. Augustine comments on the lamp burning in the dark till the great Sun shines again, the prophetic light lit till the time when “lamps will no longer be needed. When that day is at hand, the prophet will not be read to us, the book of the Apostle will not be opened, we shall not require the testimony of John, we shall have no need of the Gospel itself. Therefore all Scriptures will be taken away from us, those Scriptures which in the night of this world burned like lamps so that we might not remain in darkness.”

Life’s darkness is temporary; we are meant for the light.

“I implore you to love with me and, by believing, to run with me; let us long for our heavenly country, let us sigh for our heavenly home, let us truly feel that here we are strangers. What shall we then see? Let the gospel tell us: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. You will come to the fountain, with whose dew you have already been sprinkled.

Instead of the ray of light which was sent through slanting and winding ways into the heart of your darkness, you will see the light itself in all its purity and brightness. It is to see and experience this light that you are now being cleansed. Dearly beloved, John himself says, we are the sons of God, and it has not yet been disclosed what we shall be; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

I feel that your spirits are being raised up with mine to the heavens above; but the body which is corruptible weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind. I am about to lay aside this book, and you are soon going away, each to his own business. It has been good for us to share the common light, good to have enjoyed ourselves, good to have been glad together. When we part from one another, let us not depart from him.”

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You Never Know

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You never know what the day will bring. Father Emery Kibal is a Passionist priest from the Democratic Republic of Congo who’s staying with us this year here in Jamaica, New York and serving as chaplain at Mercy Hospital in Rockville Center, Long Island. A few weeks ago as he was coming down the hospital stairs his mobile phone rang. It was the Apostolic Delegate from the Congo.

“Pope Francis wants you to be the bishop of the Diocese of Kole in the Democratic Republic of Congo.” “Can I have some time to think it over,” Father Emery said. “When Mary was asked by the angel to be the Mother of God, she answered immediately,” the Apostolic Delegate said.

“What could I say to that?” Father Emery said afterwards. He will be ordained bishop in the Congo in July.

You never know what the day will bring. The diocese Bishop Emery will lead faces hard times. Some months ago the Archbishop of Kinshaha in the Congo was visiting our community on his way to Washington to ask the American government to stop arms shipments to his country where armed bands are causing hardship and widespread disruption.

Yet as you see, the new bishop laughs. In today’s readings for Mass, St.Paul says “ I do not shrink from proclaiming to you the entire plan of God.” He’s convinced the Spirit of God is his guide and support in the ministry God gives him.

In the gospel today, Jesus prays for those who follow him

“I pray for them.
I do not pray for the world but for the ones you have given me,
because they are yours, and everything of mine is yours
and everything of yours is mine,
and I have been glorified in them.
And now I will no longer be in the world,
but they are in the world, while I am coming to you.”

In one sense, we never know what’s before us. Yet, faith doesn’t flinch before the unknown. The psalm verse for today says:

“Blessed day by day be the Lord,
who bears our burdens; God, who is our salvation.
God is a saving God for us;
the LORD, my Lord, controls the passageways of death.”

God bless you, Bishop Emery.

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