A Field Full of Questions, and Answers

By Orlando Hernandez

This Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 13:1-9 ) presents Jesus’ parable of the sower, which was read two Sundays ago in longer form. Our Lord tells us:

“ A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seeds fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear. “

Last Sunday we heard the parable of the weeds among the wheat ( Mt 13:24-43 ), showing us again the we should have great admiration for farmers, because getting crops to grow is no easy thing! I myself desperately need a “green thumb”. I have this patch of grass in front of my house that frustrates me even year. I keep on adding fertilizer and more and more grass seeds, but eventually the place looks much more barren than the rest of the lawn. What is the earth in this section lacking? What does then other section of the lawn have? I just don’t know.

Now, how do these metaphors pertain to my spiritual life? I have to ask, what was there suddenly present in the soil of my heart, after forty-two years without faith, that God suddenly became alive and urgent in my life? That was ten years ago. Then, when I first heard these parables, I became terrified at the thought that my soul was really like the rocky soil in the parable, that the religious fervor and joy that I was feeling was just a passing thing, that I would let Jesus down again. And the weeds and the choking thorns? It seemed that every time things did not turn out right, someone got on my nerves, laziness got the best of me, or suffering hit me in the face, I reacted in a less than Christian way! And yet, despite the ups and downs, the  “ scorching “ summers, the rough winters, in the end this field of mine keeps on yielding a harvest of faith, hope, and love from God, in God, for God and for all His children. Thank you, Beloved!

What has kept the soil of my heart “rich” enough all these years ? Our Lord says that it is understanding of the word of God. How does one “understand” the word of God, with the mind, with the heart, or both ? What is this understanding like ? What is the “ word “ of God ?

This is too much to fully cover in this writing, but here are some ideas. I feel the word of God is his very Self — which is his unfathomable love, and when love touches your soul, you’re ready for anything. And how to we perceive this message of love ? This faculty is also a gift of God. Saint Paul tells us, “ no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.”( 1 Cor, 2 : 11-12 )

This understanding, this love, is the “ food “ that makes the field of our hearts ready to grow good crops. We are also the crop : good, golden wheat, to be cut and tossed about, threshed, and crushed, baked, blessed, broken, and given for the world in the name of Christ! This is really not very appealing to many people (and so the barren fields ). It does not seem that pleasurable or glamorous. Why has it appealed to me ?
Wednesday’s first reading (Ex, 6 : 12-15 ) describes the manna that falls from heaven to feed the people. God’s “Miracle Growth” of faith, his Holy Spirit, has fallen unto the field of my soul for so many years, softly, and gradually, and lovingly. I was looking at the entries in my spiritual journal over the last number of years and came across so many inspirations in my life, brought by the holy example of so many people : my son, who got me to come back to church, my wife, who is my guide in so many ways, the many, many kind, loving priests who opened my heart to the scriptures and to the loving message of God. There are so many folks that I have helped, and helped me along the way, showing me their example and sacrifice, their very love, their light. And there is Jesus, Himself, the crucified and risen One, coming to me every day with his patience and tenderness, in the Eucharist and in prayer.

All these persons have indeed been God’s wheat, God’s bread, blessed, broken, given onto me like gently falling dew upon the soil of my life, spiritual food for my soul. I am reminded that St. Paul of the Cross once said something like this : “ The human soul is the ground upon which God rests.” The Greek word for soil is “ hummus “, the root of the word “ humility “ . This humility, also a gift from God , seems to be one of those ingredients also needed for the soil of our hearts to accept the word of God.

Dear Lord, thank you for opening my eyes to the miracle of your loving presence resting within me. Please, open the eyes of those around me. Give me the wisdom and strength to reflect you. Give me the ” green thumb” that I need so much!

Orlando Hernandez

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

The Story of Ann and Joachim

Joachim among the Shepherds

We celebrate the Feast of Ann and Joachim today, parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, tradition says, but there’s nothing in the scriptures about them. There is an early 2nd century document called the Gospel of James that tells their story. I’ll use that early document as a basis for telling their story to you.

Ann and Joachim lived in Jerusalem, tradition says, where Joachim, a descendant of David and a wealthy man, provided sheep and other offerings for the temple sacrifices. The couple had ties to Bethlehem and Nazareth.

They were well off but for twenty years one disappointment clouded their marriage: they had no child. Even after vowing to dedicate their child to God, no child came. And so, at a time when children were especially treasured, they were thought poor. Descendants of David, they were blamed also for failing to continue the line the Messiah would come from.

Stung by criticism, Joachim spent more time in the mountains, brooding among the shepherds and the sheep. As her husband distanced himself from her, Ann too felt the sadness of childlessness. God seemed far away.

In the garden one day, noticing some sparrows building a nest in a laurel tree, Ann burst into tears: “Why was I born, Lord?” she said, “birds build nests for their young and I have no child of my own. The creatures of the earth, the fish of the sea are fruitful, but I have nothing. The land has a harvest, but I have no child  in my arms.”

At that moment, an angel of the Lord came and said, “”Ann, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child the whole world will praise. Hurry to the Golden Gate and meet your husband there.”

In the mountains, meanwhile, an angel in dazzling light  spoke to Joachim, “Don’t be afraid. I come to say the Lord hears your prayers. God knows your goodness and your sorrow and will give your wife a child as he did Sara, Abraham’s wife, and Anna,  mother of Samuel. You  will have a daughter and name her Mary.  Offer her to God, for she will be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb. I give you a sign: Go back to Jerusalem. You’ll meet your wife at the Golden Gate and your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Joachim and Ann met at the Golden Gate to the temple, the place of God’s presence. They embraced as they spoke of the angel’s promise. Returning home, Ann conceived and bore a daughter, and they called her “Mary.”

When she was three years old, Ann brought Mary to the temple where she learned to read the scriptures, to pray and take part in the Jewish feasts celebrated through the year. She watched her father bring lambs to be offered in sacrifice. She grew in wisdom and grace in the presence of God.

When Mary approached marriage age– then 15 or so–her parent arranged for her marriage as it was the custom. They sought the high priest’s advice, tradition says, and Joseph of Nazareth was chosen as her husband. At the time, Ann and Joachim made Nazareth their home.

During this time the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Child.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up. He was raised him in a large extended family that included his grandparents, Ann and Joachim, who cared for him as a child.

No one knows just when or where Ann and Joachim died, but Jesus must have treasured them in life and on their passage to God.

My retelling of the story of Ann and Joachim is based on the 2nd century Protoevangelium of James–an apostle related to Jesus. The story repeats a fundamental theme of  the Book of Genesis: God promises Adam and Eve they will have many children and enjoy the blessings of the earth. God repeats the promise to an aged, childless couple, Abraham and Sarah, and again to Anna, who bemoans her childlessness to the priest Eli in the temple. As he dealt with them God gives a child to Ann and Joachim, Mary, their daughter, who will bring blessings to the nations through her son Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Spirit.

The illustrations, which helped popularize the story of Ann and Joachim in Italy, Europe and the rest of the western world, are Giotto’s, from the 14th century, and are found in the Arena Chapel in Padua.

Grandmothers and grandfathers appreciate this story. Like Ann and Joachim they have a big role in raising those who will bless another generation.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

Morning Thoughts: One Good Influence

by Howard Hain

.

Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

—Psalm 90:12


.

Sometimes I feel I have no identity at all. I am at each new successive moment the current culmination of the influences upon me.

I don’t know if this statement is true or not, or if it has any truth attached to it at all—or if perhaps it is merely some kind of “existential” temptation. But just in case there is something to it—something worth paying attention to—I should probably then also ask this very real and relevant question:

What influences are upon me?

If I don’t begin my list with “THE WORD”, then something is certainly not right.

Something is clearly out of order.

“Lord…order our days in your peace…” (Eucharistic Prayer I)

———

It is worth noting that ‘days’ takes the plural form, as does ‘words’.

And let us remember that that is not what God sent.

God sent His Son. Not words.

“And the Word became flesh…”

Jesus is truly singular. So much so He is the only universal.

———

So as we receive our daily correction, and as we get ourselves back in order, let us spend time sincerely reading Sacred Scripture, and let us also remember to never mistake the words for The Word: The Living Breathing Presence of Jesus Christ. The Person. The Man. God Made Man. The Only True Being. Ultimate Reality. Ultimate Unity. Ultimate Oneness. The Guy Next Door.

For Jesus is alive.

He lives “before the foundation of the world”. He lives a few thousand years ago. He lives tomorrow. And yes, He lives today—much closer in fact to each and everyone of us—and in much less “extraordinary” circumstances than we too often are told to think.

Let us be influenced.


.

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

—2 Peter 3:8


.

.

Leave a comment

Filed under art, Inspiration, Motivational, philosophy, poetry, Religion, spirituality

A Mother’s Plans

On today’s feast of St. James, the apostle,  Matthew’s gospel describes the mother of James and John asking Jesus to give her sons privileged places in his kingdom. “Command that these two sons of mine sit, one at your right and the other at your left, in your kingdom.”

I’m not sure she would have fallen at Jesus’ feet as she’s pictured in the illustration above. They were related, after all, and her approach was probably more indirect. She probably reminded Jesus that James and John were his cousins, and she was one of his relations too. Family ties have always helped people get ahead.

Jesus doesn’t dismiss her altogether, but he reminds her that his followers are to serve and not be served. It’s a service that will cost them, even their lives. Following him doesn’t mean that they and their family would gain. Like the Son of Man James and John will  have to give their lives “for many.”

They’re called by God to reach out, and reaching out can be hard, sometimes painful. It means going beyond those we call our own, our families and friends. It means reaching out to those we don’t know, even to those we don’t like. It means going beyond what we’re used to.

Later stories say that James and John went to places far beyond the Sea of Galilee where they fished with their father Zebedee and were loved and cared for by a mother who always had their interests at heart. Our church is a missionary church. It reaches out to the whole world. That’s what  Jesus last words in Matthew’s gospel said to do:  “Go out to the whole world, baptizing and teaching.”

That’s still his word today. Go out to the whole world, even if the world is changing and the future is uncertain. “I am with you all days,” Jesus says.

Leave a comment

Filed under Religion

The Martyrs of Damiel

Damielmartrys
Wars, especially civil wars, can bring unspeakable violence. The Spanish Civil War in the 1930s is a good example. There were atrocities on both sides. Innocent people were among its victims, and suffered for no reason at all.

The Martyrs of Damiel, Spanish Passionists from my own community, most of them young students for the priesthood preparing for missionary work in Cuba and Mexico, were killed in 1936. It’s a tragic story, but also a story of God’s grace shining through human evil..

Between July 22nd and October 24th, 1936, twenty-six religious from the Passionist house of studies, Christ of the Light, outside the city of Daimiel, about eighty miles south of Madrid, died at the hands of anti-religious militiamen at the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. They were: Niceforo Diez Tejerina, 43, provincial superior, who previously served as a missionary in Mexico and Cuba after being ordained in Chicago, Illinois.; Ildefonso García Nozal, 38; Pedro Largo Redondo, 29; Justiniano Cuestra Redondo, 26; Eufrasio de Celis Santos, 21; Maurilio Macho Rodríguez, 21; Jose EstalayoGarcia, 21; Julio Mediavilla Concejero, 21; Fulgencio Calv Sánchez, 19; Honorino Carraced Ramos, 19; Laurino Proáno Cuestra, 20; Epifanio Sierra Conde, 20; Abilio Ramos Ramos, 19; Anacario Benito Nozal, 30; Felipe Ruiz Fraile, 21; Jose Osés Sainz, 21; Felix Ugalde Irurzun, 21; Jose Maria Ruiz Martinez, 20; Zacarias Fernández Crespo, 19; Pablo Maria Lopez Portillo, 54; Benito Solano Ruiz, 38; Tomas Cuartero Gascón, 21; Jose Maria Cuartero Gascón, 18; German Perez Jiménez, 38; Juan Pedro Bengoa Aranguren, 46; Felipe Valcobado Granado, 62.

Most of those killed were young religious studying for ordination and destined for missionary work in Mexico and Cuba. Others were priests who taught them and brothers who served in the community. Father Niceforo, the provincial, was visiting the community at the time. Militiamen entered the Passionist house on the night of July 21st and ordered the thirty-one religious to leave in one hour. Father Niceforo gathered them in the chapel, gave them absolution, opened the tabernacle and said: “We face our Gethsemane. . . all of us are weak and frightened,but Jesus is with us; he is the strength of the weak. In Gethsemane an angel comforted Jesus; now he himself comforts and strengthens us. . .Very soon we will be with him. . .To die for him is really to live. . . Have courage and help me by your example.”
He then distributed the sacramental hosts to them.

The militiamen ordered the group to the cemetery and told them to flee. At the same time, they alerted companions in the surrounding areas to shoot the religious on sight. The Passionists split into five groups. The first group of nine was captured and shot outside the train station of Carabanchel in Madrid on July 22, 1936 at 11pm. The second group of twelve, Father Niceforo among them, was taken at the station at Manzanares and shot by a firing squad. Father Niceforo and four others died immediately. Seven were taken to a hospital where one later died. Six of them recovered, only to be shot to death later on October 23, 1936.

Three other religious, traveling together, were executed at the train station of Urda (Toledo) on July 25th. Two gave their lives at Carrion de Calatrave on September 25th. Only five of the thirty-one religious were spared.

Numerous eye-witnesses testified afterwards to the brave faith and courage shown by the Daimiel Community in their final moments, especially the signs of forgiveness they gave their executioners. They were beatified by Pope John Paul II on October 1, 1989, who said of them: “None of the religious of the community of Daimiel was involved in political matters. Nonetheless, within the climate of the historical period in which they lived, they were arrested because of the tempest of religious persecution, generously shedding their blood, faithful to their religious way of life, and emulating, in the twentieth century, the heroism of the Church’s first martyrs.” (Homily: October 1, 1989) Today their bodies are interred in the Passionist house at Daimiel.

Their feastday is July 24th. They’re remembered still at their shrine in Daimiel, Spain.

3 Comments

Filed under Passionists, Religion

16th Sunday: A –The Weeds and the Wheat

1 Comment

Filed under Inspiration, Motivational, Passionists, Religion, spirituality

Mary Magdalene

John_20_15

St. Gregory the Great  got it wrong identifying Mary Magdalene with Mary, the sister of Lazarus and the sinful woman (Luke 7,38ff)  who washed Jesus’ feet.  Yet,  his description of her spirituality is right on.

Here’s an excerpt from his 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 3rd and 4th century gnostic writings, 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 earlier witness of the four gospels and the evidence of the New Testament. They recognize Mary as a disciple who was one of many women followers of Jesus and loved him. 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.

2 Comments

Filed under Religion