Monthly Archives: June 2015

The Daughters of Jesus

 

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

In this Sunday’s gospel, the evangelist Mark runs two stories together. A synagogue official, Jairus is his name, goes to Jesus pleading that he come and cure his little daughter who’ s dying. Jairus is obviously an important figure in that area; people know him and immediately a crowd gathers to follow the synagogue official and Jesus to the house.

That story is interrupted by the story of a woman– we don’t know her name– who has had hemorrhages for twelve years and spent all her money on doctors. Obviously she’s poor, broke and stressed out. She pushes through the crowd on the way to Jairus’ house and touches Jesus cloak and is cured. Jesus recognizes her and calls her. “In fear and trembling” she approaches him. “Daughter,” Jesus says to her, “ your faith has saved you. Go in peace and be cured of your affliction.” To Jesus the woman is his “daughter,” like the daughter of Jairus, someone who is dear to him.

Then the gospel returns to the first story. Jesus reaches Jairus’ house, the little girl is dead. They’re all mourning loudly. He raises the little girl up to life and tells them to give her something to eat.

It’s easy to say which of those two stories would make the 6 o’clock news tonight or the Daily News headlines tomorrow. Daughter of Synagogue Official Saved from Death.

You wonder why Mark’s Gospel runs those stories together the way it does? The unknown woman’s story seems to interrupt the far more dramatic story about the synagogue official’s little girl who dies and is brought back to life. Yet, Mark’s gospel puts the two stories together, seemingly to indicate that both them must be told and are somehow interconnected.

I’m thinking of these stories in the light of Pope Francis’ new encyclical, Laudato Si, on the environment, which was published last week. That encyclical has a lot of interconnected stories too. You can concentrate on one of its dramatic highlights, like it’s urgent call to do something about climate change and either agree or disagree with the pope and pass over all the rest. But the pope’s encyclical is many sided. There’s a great deal in it. It’s about more than climate change or carbon credits or the impact it may have on our American political scene.

The pope is asking us to examine the way we look at things, the way we look at life, the way we look at nature, our common home. He wants us to examine ourselves in the light of our faith, but also in the view of the realities of life today. The encyclical is addressed primarily to Catholics, but he’s asking all people to look at what it means to live together on this planet now.

Encyclicals are long letters, densely constructed, and this one is too, 184 pages. But if you take your time and go through it slowly, and that’s hard because so many of us like our news in sound bites, you will find it’s stimulating and challenging. I’m sure we are going to be exposed to the “stories” in this encyclical in the months and years to come. I don’t think it’s going to go away.

The encyclical is on the internet. You can get it on the Vatican website, and I’m sure you’ll find it in print very shortly.

The pope’s language is strong, but remember the pope’s a preacher, and they say a preacher is supposed to “Comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”

It’s not just governments, or corporations and communities and systems he’s challenging. It’s all of us. We “have grown up in a milieu of extreme consumerism that makes it difficult to see the world as it is, particularly the world of the poor.” He’s asking us to see the world as it’s interconnected.

For the pope, the environment is not just nature, but nature and human society together. He’s calling, not just for awareness, but an awareness that translates into new habits. (209) He’s asking for an “ecological conversion. It’s not enough to think about these things; we need to change our ways.

And changing our ways and our lives is always hard. We get used to the way we live, the ways we think and the way we are.

On final thing to remember about this encyclical: the pope wants us to look at things with an eye on the poor, the poor that are close by and the global poor who live in places we never see or hear about. In his letter, the pope sometimes refers to poor as the “excluded,” they don’t enter into our world or our planning or our thinking. But they should.

And maybe that’s why this Sunday’s gospel is so pertinent. The two stories in it are about two worlds. Jairus the synagogue official is someone people know. He has a name, and Jesus goes to his house and raises his daughter to life. The poor woman who comes up to Jesus in the crowd has no name. She lives in fear and trembling. But Jesus calls her “daughter,” she’s his daughter too, and she will not be turned away.

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The Birth of John the Baptist

It may have changed, but there’s an interesting Sunday walk in Rome I’d recommend.  Go out the city gate at the Porta di San Sebastiano and walk south along one of the oldest roads in the world, the Via Appia, to the catacombs and church of San Sebastiano.

Outside the city gates, you’re in what the ancient Romans called the “limes,” the limits, the world beyond the city, a different world altogether.

To the ancient Romans the “limes”  meant many things. Civilized, reasonable life ended there. No place to live, they believed. Get where you’re going as soon as you can. The word “limes” enters our own phrase “speed limit;” beyond this speed you could lose your life.

On that road years ago there were no cars, few people, deserted fields all around. The only sound  was the sound of your own breathing and your footsteps.

The Via Appia brings you to the catacombs, the great underground tunnels where the early Christians buried their dead. They  buried them there, I believe,  not to hide them, but because this place was an image of a new unknown world.  The “limes,”  marked the end of this life and foreshadowed a new life. The dead no longer belonged in the city; they were going to  a new city.

In the “limes” God alone had you in his hands.

The last line of our gospel from Luke for the Feast of the Birth of  John the Baptist says:

“ The child grew and became strong in spirit,

and he was in the desert until the day

of his manifestation to Israel.”

From birth,  John was destined for the desert– the Jewish equivalent of the “limes.” There he was solely in God’s hands, who readied him to welcome the Messiah.

Centuries before, God led the Jews from Egypt into the desert.  Leaving the world they knew they traveled with no map to a world  unknown.  They were in God’s hands, who alone was their strength.

Most of us don’t live in physical deserts or even go beyond our limits. Yet, try as we may to avoid them, we face them anyway in things we didn’t expect, like sickness, or death, or separation, or divorce, or the loss of a job, or lost friends or lost places we know and love. The desert’s never far from any of us.

But blessings are there, as  the beautiful reading from Isaiah applied to John the Baptist for his feast says:

“Though I thought I had toiled in vain,

and for nothing, uselessly, spent my strength,

yet my reward is with the LORD,

my recompense is with my God.”

Life holds its doubts, fears, uncertainty. But we don’t face limits alone.  God is there.  God is there.

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Abraham, The Unwavering Nomad

“Our father in faith” we call Abraham in our 1st Eucharistic Prayer, That’s because Abraham believed when God called him to leave his own land and go to a land he did not know. He believed in God’s call.

A nomad living in tents, Abraham was always on the move, on the way to a permanent home. That’s us too. As an old man, he believed when God said he would generate a child. Abraham trusted in God rather than in himself.

The great patriarch was tested. Faith grows through testing. Abraham’s greatest test came when God asked him to sacrifice his only son Isaac.

My favorite reflection on Abraham is Jessica Power’s beautiful poem:

“I love Abraham, that old weather-beaten
unwavering nomad; when God called to him
no tender hand wedged time into his stay.
His faith erupted him into a way
far-off and strange. How many miles are there
from Ur to Haran? Where does Canaan lie,
or slow mysterious Egypt sit and wait?
How could he think his ancient thigh would bear
nations, or how consent that Isaac die,
with never an outcry nor an anguished prayer?

I think, alas, how I manipulate
dates and decisions, pull apart the dark
dally with doubts here and with counsel there,
take out old maps and stare.
Was there a call after all, my fears remark.
I cry out: Abraham, old nomad you,
are you my father? Come to me in pity.
Mine is a far and lonely journey, too.

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Putting Stormy Times in Place

The scriptures are meant for stormy times, and they put stormy times in their place.

Last Sunday’s gospel was about the storm at sea from Mark’s gospel. Night’s coming, the wind rises, the waves sweep over the boat. Looks like the end, and Jesus is asleep.

I was thinking about the storm created by Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si.” Take a look at Twitter, #popefrancis, and you will see what I mean. What is he getting us into?

Today we began to read at Mass about the call of Abraham from the Book of Genesis. Brother Angelo read it slowly, as he usually does, dwelling on phrases you could miss.

“The LORD said to Abram:
‘Go forth from the land of your kinsfolk
and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you.’”

“…a land I will show you,” God says. Not a land you will show me.

“You will be a blessing…all the communities of the earth will find blessings in you.”
Not your land and it’s not about you, but it’s a blessing for all nations.

“Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Haran.”
Seventy-five? How old is Pope Francis? How old are we?

“Abraham took his wife, Sarai, his brother’s son Lot, all the possessions they had and the persons they acquired in Haran.”
Too many people, too complicated to go anywhere with such baggage.

So Abraham built an altar near the Terebinth at Mamre.
The early Christian commentators say the terebinth tree at Mamre is a symbol of the cross.

“Then Abraham journeyed on in stages to the Negeb.”
“Are we there yet?” Not there yet, only “in stages.”

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12th Sunday: God is for Stormy Times

To listen to today’s Homily just select the audio bar below:

“On that day, as evening drew on, he said to them ‘Let us cross to the other side.’” Earlier that same day, according to Mark’s gospel, Jesus taught the crowds and his disciples gathered at the lakeshore. They were delighted as he spoke, so reassuring, wise and true were his words. You could set the course of your life on him.

Yet, as he and his disciples sailed onto the Sea of Galilee “ a violent squall came up and waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was already filling up. Jesus was in the stern asleep on a cushion.”

Their delight suddenly changed into fear; they were going to drown! And it seemed Jesus in the stern of the boat asleep wasn’t even aware of their fears.

A good image of what our lives can be, isn’t it? Jesus’ words can bring such strength and encouragement. “Peace be with you.” “I am the vine, you are the branches.” “I’m with you all days.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.”

Then, the storms come; unexpectedly, powerfully, with frightening suddenness sometimes, turning our lives upside down. Overwhelmed by doubts and life’s quick tragedies, we forget all of God’s assurances. Like Jesus in the boat, God seems asleep, absent from our experience.

Good gospel to reflect on as we consider Pope Francis’ dire warnings about our endangered planet, and the church shootings in South Carolina.

Yet “the winds and the sea obey him,” this gospel reminds us. God is for stormy times as well as fair. He doesn’t want us to perish. “Have faith,” he says, “I’m with you no matter what.” God’s with us when storms come.

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What treasures do we bring to heaven?

In Matthew’s gospel today at Mass, Jesus speaks of treasures in heaven. Usually treasures for us are gold, silver, works of art, gems, degrees from school, signs of achievement. But they’re the “treasures of earth” Jesus speaks of in the gospel.
Thieves can steal them away; they can be eaten by moths and forgotten. They don’t last. (Matthew 6,19-23)

Other treasures are for heaven. St. Paul sees some of them in his trials for the gospel. God won’t forget his sufferings: the beatings, imprisonments, brushes with death, the long journeys over seas, rivers, and wildernesses where robbers waited. Paul lists dangers he faced, both from enemies and his own people. God wont forget any of them, down to his sleepless nights and bouts with the cold.

He ends his list with what might be the biggest treasure of them all; “the daily pressure upon me of my anxiety for all the churches. Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is led to sin, and I am not indignant?” He’s tried to be responsible everyday with the people around him, whether they’re the weak or the trying. That’s the lasting treasure God holds in heaven. (2 Corinthians 11,18 ff)

We might not be able to rival Paul’s list from his missionary travels, but let’s keep Paul’s last important achievement in mind. If we do what we have to do each day as well as we can, if we are faithful to our daily duty, if we bear our daily cross, if we bear with the weak and the difficult, won’t that be our treasure?

God counts it so.

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Laudato Si

Sower

Be awhile before I get through Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si, filled as it is with thought provoking words. He says in this encyclical that we need to slow down, our world is too fast paced. This is a work to go through slowly.

He quotes from many sources, religious and secular. I found a little gem in a quotation Francis takes from a Sufi mystic: We need to regain and develop a mystical appreciation of the earth”

[159] The spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas stresses from his own experience the need not to put too much distance between the creatures of the world and the interior experience of God. As he puts it: “Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted…” (EVA DE VITRAY-MEYEROVITCH [ed.], Anthologie du soufisme, Paris 1978, 200).

Francis urges us to feel the pain of our earth and those society ignores, like the unseen immigrants searching for a home somewhere. The Passion of the earth is a theme the Passionists have been addressing recently, influenced by the work of Fr. Thomas Berry, CP, who must be smiling from above at the pope’s efforts.

There’s something for everyone here.

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