Monthly Archives: June 2011

June 30th

June 30th, following the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we celebrate the early Christian martyrs put to death by Nero after the disastrous fire that burned down much of the city July 19, 64 AD. If I were in Rome today I would go to the church of Saint Peter in Chains or to the gardens of Saints John and Paul on the Celian Hiill to remember them.

The two apostles were put to death around this time and many (we don’t know how many) followed them.

There’s a blog and a video on the church of St. Peter in Chains here and here.And a video on the Stations of the Cross in the gardens of Saints John and Paul here. There’s also a video on the Quo Vadis story here.

The persecution and martyrdom  in 64 throws light on the creation of the Gospel of Mark, which many think was written in Rome afterwards.

One thing I think this feast and the Gospel of Mark suggests: the Church of Rome did not flee from the uncertainty and persecution it faced then. I think the Quo Vadis story indicates that. It didn’t give up.

We pray today:

Father,

you sanctified the Church of Rome

with the blood of its first martyrs.

May we find strength from their courage

and rejoice in their triumph.

We ask this through our Lord, Jesus Christ, your Son.

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Peter and Paul

Today, the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Vatican began a new website on the internet that combines a number of their websites under one portal: www.news.va

Good idea, nice and simple. Begun on the Feast of the two apostles who are considered the founders of the church of Rome it’s a website addressed to the world. And on its opening page there’s the pope playing with what’s surely an iPad. May others do likewise. I’m not quite sure about Peter, but I’m sure Paul would have loved one of those things.

One story on the new site is about a new discovery archeologists made of a 6th century portrait of St. Paul, the Apostle, from a catacomb near Naples. Paul, is described in the story as looking like a Roman philosopher. He peers out from the side of an arcosolium, a burial place, at the mourners who come to honor their dead. He who saw the Risen Christ carries news of new life.

His portrait looks like other early portraits of him, just a Peter’s portrait is pretty much established early on. Peter looks like a rough and ready fisherman–which I’m sure he was. I think he would be uncomfortable to hear himself described as “the prince of the apostles.”

Not that he was a shrinking violet. In today’s readings, St. Augustine claims that the three affirmations of love Jesus called him to make, according to the Gospel of John, were to conquer Peter’s “self-assurance.”

“Quite rightly, too, did the Lord after his resurrection entrust his sheep to Peter to be fed. It is not, you see, that he alone among the disciples was fit to feed the Lord’s sheep; but when Christ speaks to one, unity is being commended to us. And he first speaks to Peter, because Peter is the first among the apostles.

“Do not be sad, Apostle. Answer once, answer again, answer a third time. Let confession conquer three times with love, because self-assurance was conquered three times by fear. What you had bound three times must be loosed three times. Loose through love what you had bound through fear. And for all that, the Lord once, and again, and a third time, entrusted his sheep to Peter.”

“There is one day for the passion of two apostles. But these two also were as one; although they suffered on different days, they were as one. Peter went first, Paul followed. We are celebrating a feast day, consecrated for us by the blood of the apostles. Let us love their faith, their lives, their labours, their sufferings, their confession of faith, their preaching.”

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The Glory of God

I was surprised to see Harold Camping at his usual place on television the other night. The rapture didn’t happen May 21st, he explained, because God wanted to alert the world that the end was going to come this October. A caller wondered if we could do anything about helping this world of ours, but Harold was quite firm that God was going to destroy it completely. It’s an open sewer, according to him. Nothing’s worth saving.

How different from the Christian vision of St. Irenaeus, the 3rd century  bishop of Lyons, whose feast we celebrate June 28th. He condemned the gnostics– favorites of new age thinkers today– for their dismissal of creation as evil. The One God is the source of our created world and we know him through it, Irenaeus taught. We cannot know God if we depreciate or ignore the world God has made; it mirrors his glory.

“The glory of God gives life; those who see God receive life. For this reason God, who cannot be grasped, comprehended or seen, allows himself to be seen, comprehended and grasped by us, that he may give life to those who see and receive him…  God is the source of all activity throughout creation. He cannot be seen or described in his own nature and in all his greatness by any of his creatures. Yet he is certainly not unknown.”

The Word of God has a twofold role, according to Irenaeus, revealing God in creation and finally coming in the flesh to complete this revelation in Jesus Christ.  No  one has ever seen God, except the only-begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father; he has revealed him.

He revealed God to us and presented us to God. He safeguarded the invisibility of the Father to prevent us from treating God with contempt and to set before us a constant goal toward which to make progress. On the other hand, he revealed God to us and made him visible in many ways to prevent us from being totally separated from God and so cease to be.

“Life in us is the glory of God; in human life one can see the vision of God. If the revelation of God through creation gives life to all who live upon the earth, much more does the manifestation of the Father through the Word give life to those who see God.”

Harold should read that wonderful story from the Book of Genesis we read yesterday at Mass about Abraham bargaining with God for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah. The world’s worth saving.

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We are His Flock

 

Last Saturday I celebrated Mass in a parish whose pastor was retiring and a new one was coming in to take over. It was the Feast of Corpus Christi, a vivid reminder of the presence of Jesus Christ among us. He is our shepherd and we are his flock.

We’re very conscious today of human leaders, whether they are politicians, business leaders, bishops or pastors. We want them to keep things going, to solve problems and to lead us into the future. When things go wrong, they’re the first we blame. Often they are all we see.

But there is another who leads us. “We are his people, the flock of the Lord.” St. Augustine comments on this verse from the psalms:

”  In this song we have declared that we are his flock, the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hands… You are my sheep, he says. Even in the midst of this life of tears and tribulations, what happiness, what great joy it is to realise that we are God’s flock! To him were spoken the words: You are the shepherd of Israel. Of him it was said: The guardian of Israel will not slumber, nor will he sleep. He keeps watch over us when we are awake; he keeps watch over us when we sleep.

A flock belonging to a man feels secure in the care of its human shepherd; how much safer should we feel when our shepherd is God. Not only does he lead us to pasture, but he even created us.”The words we have sung contain our declaration that we are God’s flock: For he is the Lord our God who made us. He is our God, and we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hands.

Human shepherds did not make the sheep they own; they did not create the sheep they pasture. Our Lord God, however, because he is God and Creator, made for himself the sheep which he has and pastures. No one else created the sheep he pastures, nor does anyone else pasture the sheep he created.

“The Lord is my shepherd,” we say. And he shepherds the world as well.

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Seeing God

St. Gregory of Nyssa has a beautiful reflection in today’s readings on the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.”

He begins by saying that “It does not say that it is blessed to know something about the Lord God, but that it is blessed to have God within oneself. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

“I do not think that this is simply intended to promise a direct vision of God if one purifies one’s soul. On the other hand, perhaps the magnificence of this saying is hinting at the same thing that is said more clearly elsewhere: The kingdom of God is within you. That is, we are to understand that by purging our souls of every illusion and every disordered affection, we will see our own beauty as an image of the divine nature.

“Our own beauty as an image of the divine nature,”

We are sharers in the divine nature. We’re not God, who is transcendent, inaccessible, beyond our minds and knowing, but we can “see” God in ourselves, our own image, as we are purified from our illusions, our sins, our disordered love. Like many early eastern theologians, Gregory appreciates the basic goodness of human nature restored by the grace of the Redeeming Christ. No demeaning of humanity here.

The saints goes on:

“And those pure in heart are blessed because, seeing their own purity, they see the archetype reflected in the image. If you see the sun in a mirror then you are not looking directly at the sky, but still you are seeing the sun just as much as someone who looks directly at it. In the same way, the Lord is saying, although you do not have the strength to withstand the direct sight of the great and inaccessible light of God, if you look within yourselves once you have returned to the grace of the image that was placed in you from the beginning, you will find in yourselves all that you seek… the sight of God.”

Going a step further, can the saint’s words apply also to creation itself? If our created world as well as our human world mirrors God, aren’t we meant to see God there too? If it is marred and disfigured by human greed and loses its place as a sacrament of God’s presence, does the beatitude about purifying the human heart also extend to renewing and purifying creation?

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Fighting the Good Fight

 

The Passionists of my province offer daily homilies based on the readings of Mass. I contribute to the website, which I recommend. Here’s my homily for today:

I suppose we all try to visualize what famous people looked like. Many of them, like Paul the Apostle, left no portraits, but artists have imagined them for us. His fiery personality shines out in our first reading for today from his Letter to the Corinthians.

The statue of Paul at the entrance to the old pilgrim church of St. Paul Outside the Walls in Rome is one of my favorites. Paul’s portrayed as an old man, clothed in a heavy traveler’s cloak, bent and tired from coming a long way. He holds a great sword firmly in hand, but he’s not a military man. It’s the sword of faith he’s holding, a symbol of the faith that won hearts and banished darkness.

He has “fought the good fight” and “kept the faith;” his earthly journey’s ended. Pictures on the church doors recall his final hours, when Paul died decapitated by an executioner’s sword not far from this spot, after a period of imprisonment in Rome.

Did he review his own life then? I’m sure Paul wondered at the mystery of it all, especially the time a blinding light threw him from his horse on the way to Damascus, and then those hard journeys to towns and cities where he labored hard to bring faith in Jesus to so many. I don’t think he spent much time fighting old battles, though. Like those he had with the rival teachers who invaded his turf in Corinth.

When it’s all said and done, it’s not our judgment that counts at the end.  It’s God’s judgment that counts.

Looking higher up on the façade of that great church that bears the apostle’s remains, we can see Paul the Apostle, pictured in the light of glory, his traveling days done. With Peter, a fellow disciple, he sits at the feet of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord whom he loved so much. “Who are you, Lord?” Paul once cried, thrown to the ground. Now he knows,  granted the grace, unmerited like all others, to see Jesus face to face.

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What’s a Retreat?

I’m preaching a retreat for priests next week and I’m wondering what to say. As usual,  I ask myself –what is a retreat anyway?

A car tune-up comes to mind.  I usually delay getting it done because I wonder if I really need it; after all, the car still runs. Why go on retreat we say; we’re still going along spiritually? But the car needs to be tuned up; the oil needs to be changed; the tires need to be balanced and any unusual noises need to be checked out.

The concept of balance stands out. A retreat is a time to regain spiritual balance. That’s suggested by a commentary on the Our Father by St. Cyprian I read recently.

God is “our” Father; we pray for “our” daily bread; we ask that “our” sins be forgiven, the saint stresses. Early commentators like Cyprian emphasized  a common approach to God as they reflected on the prayer taught by Jesus.

It’s not just me and God.  We go to God together, not alone, the saint says. My voice joins with others. I have to ask for others as well as myself. I have to pray that “Our bread–that is, Christ,” the cosmic Christ who embraces us all, be given to us all.

“ We must fear and pray lest anyone should be kept at a distance from salvation who, being withheld from communion, remains separate from Christ’s body. For he has given us this warning: Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood, you will have no life in you. And therefore we ask that our bread – that is, Christ – may be given to us daily, so that we who live in Christ may not depart from his sanctification and his body.”

We live in an age of  “expressive individualism,’ as Charles Taylor describes it, and we need to rebalance ourselves by entering into communion with other realities besides ourselves.  We’re imbalanced towards individualism, and  imbalance is dangerous.

What realities? Certainly we need to open ourselves to other human beings. We belong together and we need each other. We tend today to become preoccupied with ourselves, which leads to isolation and loneliness. We  might need rebalancing.

“As generous distributors of God’s grace, put your gifts at the service of one another.” ( 1Peter 4,9) It’s not enough for me to have gifts; it’s wrong to hoard gifts;  I have to use them for the service of others. That will cover a multitude of sins, St. Peter writes, our personal sins.

In an age of expressive individualism, it’s easy to fall into a selfishness that causes us to look out for ourselves and turn away from others.

It’s not just the human world we must commune with. What about the natural world? The fragile world of nature so endangered today? Some say we have become imbalanced because we have lost our connection with the universe. We come from the dust of the earth;  besides giving ourselves to our human family, we need to put our gifts as the service of our natural world as well.

Finally, we must remember our union with God, our creator, the One who sustains us; the one who calls to intimacy and lasting communion. “God is my refuge and our strength,” we say in the psalms. “Without me you can do nothing, “ Jesus says.

In the recent issue of the Jesuit magazine American (June 6-13,2011) Fr. Richard Hauser SJ reviews a book by Louis Savary call The New Spiritual Excercises: In the Spirit of Teilhard de Chardin, (Paulist Press)  It’s an attempt to re-envision Ignatian retreats in the light of de Chardin’s evolutionary and cosmic perspectives. Good idea, the reviewer says.

Is a retreat a time of rebalancing, renewing our communion with God, our human family and our world? Is a retreat a time to become aware of where we fit in the evolution of things, in the cosmic picture? I think so.

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