Monthly Archives: February 2009

Start Somewhere

I was happy to see the Vatican launch out onto Youtube.  The digital generation spends a lot a time there, so why not reach out to them? Maybe we don’t have all the whistles and bells, but let’s start somewhere.

At the Travel Show in the Javits Center in New York City last Sunday, crowds of people were looking for places to go and see around the world. Some of them may end up in churches and shrines, which have wonderful stories to tell.

Here’s a church in Rome I’ve always liked, and it tells a powerful story.  Saint Peter in Chains.

I have other clips on Youtube. Type vhoagland into the search box and see for yourself.

Peter’s Mother-in-Law

The gospels tell the good news of Jesus Christ– what he did and said. They don’t tell it all.

We’d like to know more about him, of course, but how about some others the gospels mention in passing?

Like Peter’s mother-in-law, for example, whom Mark’s gospel recalls. After leaving the synagogue at Capernaum where he expelled an unclean spirit from a man, Jesus entered the house of Peter and Andrew where Peter’s mother-in-law has a fever. Not quite as bad as being possessed by an unclean spirit, we may think,  but most of us know a bout with the flu can take  a lot out of you too.

Jesus took her by the hand and helped her up. The fever left her and she waited on them.
That final phrase “and she waited on them” – says a lot.

She was one of those who cooked their meals, washed and mended their clothes, fussed over them when they came home, wanted to know what happened that day, tried to protect them when too many people were knocking on the door to see them. Cook, Cleaner, Advisor, Gatekeeper, Supporter, and much more.

We all know what it means when someone like her waits on us.

Peter’s mother-in-law not only received the blessing of Jesus but kept it alive in what she did. She welcomed Jesus in the way she alone could. Without what she did, do you think he and his disciples could have carried on?

The church exists on many levels. Paul used the analogy of a body. We tend to think it’s just a few that bring the gospel to the world, but it’s never been the work of a few. Many, like Peter’s mother-in-law, have a part in it too.

The church is not made up of “Lone Rangers.” The final chapter of Paul’s Letter to the Romans has a litany of people in the Roman church whom the apostle greets as friends and co-workers. Most of them we know nothing about. Some of them, like Peter’s mother-in-law, probably “waited on him.”

Is There a Perfect Church?

In his life on earth, Jesus did much good, but he also left much good undone. Listen to St. Cyril of Jerusalem speaking about the miracles of Jesus:

“At Siloam, there was a sense of wonder, and rightly so. A man born blind recovered his sight. But what importance is this when there are so many blind people in the world? Lazarus rose from the dead, but even this only affected Lazarus. What of those countless numbers who have died because of their sins? Those five miraculous loaves of bread fed five thousand. Yet this is a small number compared to those all over the word who are starved by ignorance. After eighteen years a woman is freed from bondage of Satan. But are we not all shackled by the chains of our sins?”

The saint stresses the mystery of the cross, which is Christ’s lasting gift to us.

Isn’t it true, though, that we want a Savior who creates a perfect world instantly, leaving no suffering, no questions, no evil left to plague our world?  Why didn’t he recreate paradise when he came among us?

At least, why didn’t he create a perfect church?

We’d like a church that’s perfect. Not a pilgrim church that plods its way through time, but a church that knows everything, can do everything, and can judge everything. Be nice to be part of a church like that. Or would it?

So, why shouldn’t a pope blunder in his relationship with the Jews by dealing with a crazy bishop? Popes have blundered before. Native Americans and native peoples may have a better understanding and appreciation of the environment than Christians do; feminists may appreciate the role of women in the world better than the established church does.

Isn’t there room for a “learning church?”

The disciples were “slow to understand” when they walked with Jesus on the way to Emmaus. The scriptures don’t say they knew it all when they left the table after seeing him.

We’re back to the mystery of the cross. We’re always back to the mystery of the cross.

Church Closings

I’m visiting Scranton, PA, where Bishop Joseph Martino announced the closing of  many diocesan parishes last Sunday–from 209 to 118.  He cited changing demographics, fewer financial resources and a dwindling number of priests as reasons for closing churches in the diocese.

The following day, February 2nd, was the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple. Two old people, Simeon and Anna, frequent the Temple, hoping to see the One promised by God.  They’re there when Mary and Joseph bring the Infant Jesus, and the two aged believers rejoice as they take him into their arms.

So many people meet God in churches; how awful to have the places where they were baptized, been married, buried their dead, and worshipped with family and friends taken away. However valid the reasons, closing churches is a tragedy.

The church is diminishing in these parts, as it is in other parts of our country.

I visited the Passionist Nuns today who are also diminishing. Only 8 left, but at Mass today  you’d think there were 30 of them singing, with voices more young than old.  I told them so, and Sr. Rita replied: “God has left the best singers for now.”

Maybe so.  We need a strong song to carry us on and, along with Simeon and Anna, we need living witnesses, like these nuns, whose faith beats cold statistics. We also need to listen to what the Letter to the Hebrews, read at Mass today, says:

“Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith. For the sake of the joy that lay before him Jesus endured the cross, despising its shame, and has taken his seat at the right of the throne of God.

Consider how he endured such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”