Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Visitation

Today is the  feast of the Visitation,  and in the readings Venerable Bede recalls Mary’s prayer in which she says, “My spirit rejoices in God my savior.” Like other great teachers of prayer, Bede likes to reflect on the  great prayers found in the scriptures.

“Above all other saints, she alone could truly rejoice in Jesus, her savior, for she knew that he who was the source of eternal salvation would be born in time in her body, in one person both her own son and her Lord.”

He would be born “in time” Bede says. We learn from Mary to believe in the One who “fills with greatness and strength the small and the weak who believe in him.” She calls on God, her savior who acts “in time.”

As he comments on the Magnificat, Bede offers a simple explanation for one of the night prayers of the church:  the Salve Regina.

“Hail Holy Queen,

mother of mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope….”

“It’s an excellent and fruitful custom of holy Church to sing Mary’s hymn at the time of evening prayer. By meditating upon the incarnation, our devotion is kindled, and by remembering the example of God’s Mother, we are encouraged to lead a life of virtue, which needs strengthening in the evening. We’re weary after the day’s work and worn out by our distractions. The time for rest is near, and our minds look for contemplation.”

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Moving On

Tomorrow we’re moving from Union City, NJ to Jamaica, NY. Not a big move in distance, but a big move in other ways. I wonder about the place where I’m going and hold on to the place where I’ve been.

It happens that today’s reading is St. Augustine’s famous reflection about finding God. “Place” isn’t the main issue, he says, moving on means more than that:

“Where did I find you first? You could not have been in my memory before I learned to know you. Where then could I have found you in order to learn of you, if not in yourself, far above me?

“Place” has here no meaning: further away from you or toward you we may travel, but place there is none. O Truth, you hold sovereign sway over all who turn to you for counsel, and to all of them you respond at the same time, however diverse their pleas.

“Clear is your response, but not all hear it clearly. They all appeal to you about what they want, but do not always hear what they want to hear. Your best servant is the one who is less intent on hearing from you what accords with his own will, and more on embracing with his will what he has heard from you.

“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!

Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being,

were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.

“When at last I cling to you with my whole being there will be no more anguish or labor for me, and my life will be alive indeed, alive because filled with you. But now it is very different. Anyone whom you fill you also uplift; but I am not full of you, and so I am a burden to myself. Joys over which I ought to weep do battle with sorrows that should be matter for joy, and I do not know which will be victorious. But I also see griefs that are evil at war in me with joys that are good, and I do not know which will win the day. This is agony, Lord, have pity on me! It is agony! See, I do not hide my wounds; you are the physician and I am sick; you are merciful, I need mercy.”

 

 

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The Patience of Job

I think the greatest of popes was Gregory the Great, who held the church together during Rome’s free fall into poverty in the 6th century. He kept his balance by reflecting on the scriptures, and one of his favorite books to reflect on was the Book of Job.  Here he is drawing on Job’s wisdom:

“Paul saw the riches of wisdom within himself though he himself was outwardly a corruptible body, which is why he says ‘We have this treasure in earthen vessels’. In Job, then, the earthenware vessel felt  gaping sores externally; while an interior treasure remained unchanged. The gaping outward wounds did not stop the treasure of wisdom within from welling up and uttering these holy and instructive words: ‘If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil?’ By the good he means the good things given by God, both temporal and eternal; by evil he means the blows he is suffering from in the present.”

Gregory quotes from Isaiah:

“‘I am the Lord, unrivalled,

I form the light and create the dark.

I make good fortune and create calamity,

it is I, the Lord, who do all this.’

“I form the light, and create the dark, because when the darkness of pain is created by blows from without, the light of the mind is kindled by instruction within.

‘I make good fortune and create calamity…’ Notice Job’s skill as he meets the arguments of his wife.If we have received good at the hand of the Lord, shall we not receive evil?’

 “It’s consoling, when we suffer afflictions, to remember our Maker’s gifts to us. Painful things will not depress us if we quickly remember also the gifts that we have been given. As Scripture says, ‘In the day of prosperity do not forget affliction, and in the day of affliction, do not forget prosperity.’”

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Pentecost is Coming

Jesus ascends into heaven and sends the Holy Spirit. Does the Holy Spirit bring unneeded complexity to God’s work? Even as we try to grasp who Jesus is and what he has done, we are told the Spirit comes.

The reality is that God is a mystery, and we must respect the mystery of the Trinity as it is revealed: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Jesus himself promises that the Holy Spirit will remain with us to “complete his work on earth and bring us the fullness of grace.”

The great Trinitarian controversies in the early church were about reconciling the roles of Father, Son and Holy Spirit and they still echo in us today.

I like this description of the Holy Spirit St. Cyril of Jerusalem gives in his catechetical homilies. Masterful catechist that he is, he adopts concrete language to approach mystery. Like Jesus, he uses two things we know: water and light.

 “The water I shall give will become a fountain of living water, welling up into eternal life. This is a new kind of water, a living, leaping water, welling up for those who are worthy.

“But why did Christ call the grace of the Spirit water? Because all things depend on water; plants and animals originate in water. Water comes down from heaven as rain, and always the same, it produces many different effects, one in the palm tree, another in the vine, and so on through all of creation. It does not come down, now as one thing, now as another, but  remaining essentially the same, it adapts itself to the needs of every creature that receives it.

“In the same way the Holy Spirit, whose nature is always the same, simple and indivisible, apportions grace to each one as he wills. Like a dry tree which puts forth shoots when watered, the soul bears the fruit of holiness when repentance makes it worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit. Although the Spirit never changes, its effects, by the will of God and in the name of Christ, are many and marvellous.

“The Spirit makes one a teacher of divine truth, inspires another to prophesy, gives another the power of casting out devils, enables another to interpret holy Scripture. The Spirit strengthens one’s self-control, shows another how to help the poor, teaches another to fast and lead a life of asceticism, makes another oblivious to the needs of the body, trains another for martyrdom. The Spirit’s action is different in different people, but the Spirit is always the same. In each person, Scripture says, the Spirit reveals his presence in a particular way for the common good.

“ The Spirit comes gently, known by his fragrance, not a burden, but light, very light. Rays of light and knowledge mark his approach. With the tenderness of a true friend, the Spirit comes, and as a protector saves, heals, teaches, counsels, strengthens, and consoles. The Spirit comes first to enlighten the mind of one who receives him, and then, through him, the minds of others as well.

“As light strikes the eyes of those coming out of darkness into sunlight enabling them to see what they could not see before, so light floods the soul of those called worthy of receiving the Holy Spirit and enables them to see things beyond human vision, things hitherto undreamed of.”

Come, Holy Spirit.

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Love Remains

The First Letter of John, which we read this Sunday, says simply: “No one has ever seen God.” It’s true. God is  beyond what our eyes can see and our minds take in. God, the creator of heaven and earth, is everywhere. “In him we live and move and have our being.” But our eyes are too weak to see him; our minds too small to know him. We only know God in our limited way.

But we can know God, John reminds us. We know God by love, particularly by loving one another.

“If we love one another, God remains in us,

and his love is brought to perfection in us…

God is love, and whoever remains in love

remains in God and God in him.” (1 John 4, 11-16)

God is love and his love remains in us. The first place God’s love is seen is the world we live in. God’s love is in the air we breathe, the lives we enjoy, the friends, the families, the wives, the husbands, the children, the good things of the earth we’ve been given.

God is love, his love remains; it continues, and we thank God for a love so wonderfully faithful.

The greatest gift of God, the crowning sign of his love, is Jesus Christ, his Son and our Lord. As the Word of God, he’s also beyond what our eyes can see and our minds know. But the Word was made flesh and entered our world and became like us. Conceived in the womb of Mary, his mother, he was born and grew in wisdom and grace, at a certain time and place, like us. We have seen him.

He took the path we humans take, from birth to death. In a unique way, he knew our sorrows, our sufferings, our weakness and our pains. He knows our sinfulness.

His love remains. We can hear his faithful love expressed in today’s gospel. As Jesus raises his eyes to heaven, he prays for us; he guards us, he promises to lead us to where he is. Weak as we are, unsteady as our love is, sinful as those whom he ate with the night before he died, he remains with us.

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St. Michael’s, Union City

On June 1, 2012, the Passionists left Union City, NJ, after 151 years. The community came to Union City, then West Hoboken, following a mission preached by Passionist missionaries at old St. Mary’s church in 1860.

The next year they were invited to settle on the high palisades above the city of Hoboken on the Hudson River by James Roosevelt Bailey, bishop of the newly formed diocese of Newark, who hoped they would minister to the German and Irish immigrants pouring into the northern New Jersey river towns of Hoboken, Newark, Jersey City, Hackensack and Paterson as the era of mass immigration began in 1850 and New York City expanded.

Passionist priests and brothers played a large part in building the Catholic church in northern New Jersey. They helped create 16 Catholic parishes in the area {St. Joseph, West New York, St. Paul of the Cross, Jersey City, Holy Family, Union City, St. Joseph/St Michael, Union City, among them) and preached missions and retreats to the growing Catholic population taking root in the new world.

Their base was the great church and monastery of St. Michael  built on the high palisades above the Hudson River in 1875, a familiar landmark visible for miles around. The church and monastery appear on the horizon of a panoramic map of Hoboken from 1881.

A missionary order, the Passionists chose their base in Union City, not just with northern New Jersey in mind, but because of its access to other places in the United States and the wider world. The first Passionists came to America from Italy in 1851. Before the advent of air travel, the busy Hoboken docks close by offered them access by sea to their headquarters in Rome and missionary fields in China (1922) and later the Philippines and Jamaica, West Indies.

Nearby too the newly-built railroads reached into the western, northern and southern parts of the United States. From Hoboken, Passionist preachers from St. Michael’s traveled to Catholic parishes and religious communities throughout the country to preach the gospel.

The foundation in Union City was an ideal location for a community like the Passionists with global ambitions.

In 1921, the Passionists began publication of the Sign Magazine, which grew to become one of the most important Catholic publications in North America. The magazine was discontinued in 1982, but efforts in publishing and the social media continued until now.

The Passionists made Union City a center of devotion to the Passion of Jesus. One important expression was the production of Veronica’s Veil, a play produced by St. Joseph’s Parish in Union City. Catholics came to St. Michael’s in Union City to take part in its Monday devotions to the Passionist saints, St. Paul of the Cross, St. Gabriel and St. Gemma. It was a center for retreats, confessions and counseling.

The Passionists ministered to the poor in the county institutions at Snake Hill for the many years they were located there. They trained their seminarians at St. Michael’s,  and their provincial government and archives were located there.

I took the picture on the masthead of this blog from the dome of the great church of St. Michael a few years ago. To me, it expresses the Passionists: they have a message for the world.

I came from St. Mary’s Parish in Bayonne, NJ, one of the parishes the Passionists helped establish. I was ordained in St. Michael’s and much of my ministry was based here.

Places teach you how to live as well as people. Now we move on.

“The living, the living give you thanks

as I do today.

Fathers declare to their sons, O God,

your faithfulness.” Isaiah 38,20

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The Fear of Death

Great mysteries are expressed and deep truths revealed in these days between Easter and the Ascension, St. Leo the Great says in a sermon:

“In those days the fear of death was removed with all its terrors, and the immortality not only of the soul but also of the flesh was established.”

To remove the fear of death, keep your eyes on the two disciples on the way to Emmaus whom Jesus accompanied “to sweep away all the clouds of our uncertainty.”

“He reproached them for the slowness of their timid and trembling hearts. Their enlightened hearts catch the flame of faith, and lukewarm as they have been, they are made to burn while the Lord unfolds the Scriptures. In the breaking of bread also their eyes are opened as they eat with him. How much more blessed is that opening of their eyes, to the glorification of their nature, than the time when our first parents’ eyes were opened to the disastrous consequences of their transgression.”

Keep your eyes on all the disciples at this time, the saint says: “the most blessed Apostles and all the disciples, who had been both bewildered at his death on the cross and backward in believing his Resurrection, were so strengthened by the clearness of the truth that when the Lord entered the heights of heaven, not only were they affected with no sadness, but were even filled with great joy.”

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