Monthly Archives: July 2015

Parables of the Kingdom

Net cast into the Sea

The 11th and 12th chapters of Matthew’s gospel, which we’re reading these days at Mass, describe the growing opposition to Jesus as he preaches and performs miracles in Galilee.

Not only do the Pharisees begin to oppose him and plot to put him to death, but the towns where he’s been–Capernaum, Corazin–seem to forget him. Those chapters end with another source of opposition that may surpise us. His own family from Nazareth seems to misunderstand him. It’s a dark part of Matthew’s gospel.

Jesus answers this opposition in chapter 13 in a series of parables. He begins with the parable of the sower sowing his seed. The seed doesn’t always fall on good ground, he reminds his disciples. Sometimes it falls on the path where it quickly dries up– like the  towns that welcome him enthusiastically and soon forget him.

The parable of the weeds and the wheat points to enemies who want to poison the power and beauty of his words and deeds because of their  own claims.  The Pharisees did that.

The kingdom of God comes in smallness. It’s like the mustard seed, not a full grown tree. You can miss it if  you’re looking for something fully grown and done. The treasure is hidden in a field; you may discover  almost accidentally. Maybe Jesus’ own extended family in Nazareth still saw him as just the little boy they knew before and could not appreciate him now. We underestimate small things and  what they can grow to be.

But the kingdom of heaven is also like a merchant in search of fine pearls. You have to keep searching for it all your life. You can’t give up that search. Keep looking, hoping searching.

Jesus concludes his teaching with the parable of the net cast into the sea that catches fish of every kind, good and bad. At the end of time, the net will be dragged to shore and the good will be separated from the bad.

His parables are about the real world, the world Jesus experienced. They also give us a good  template to look at the world we live in, which is not far from his.


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17th Sunday of the Year: B – The Bread of Life


Audio homily below:

The next five Sundays at Mass we’ll read from the 6th chapter of St. John’s gospel, which centers around the miracle of the loaves and the fish. All four gospels recall this miracle of Jesus; Mark and Matthew recall it twice. It’s one of Jesus’ most important miracles. It’s a miracle that will define him more than others miracles do.

John’s gospel expands on the miracle more than the other gospels. John’s gospel likes to point out signs. This miracle as an important
sign of Jesus’ mission in this world. He’s “the Bread of Life,” who answers the hunger that’s in our world.

John’s gospel notes the time and place the miracle occurs. It’s the time of Passover, on a mountain near the Sea of Galilee. When we hear it’s the Feast of Passover, we know that was when God led the Israelites out of Egypt. It was a mighty action of God. Now God will do a further act of saving his people through Jesus, his Son.

Jesus goes up a mountain. That’s an important detail too: Moses spoke to the people from a mountain on the desert journey. Now we’ll hear a greater voice from the mountain by the Sea of Galilee.

Look at the picture we have in John’s gospel: Jesus on the mountain sees a multitude of people coming toward him. In the other gospel accounts of this miracle, the disciples notice the crowds coming and nervously tells Jesus to send them away. In John’s gospel, though, Jesus sees the crowds approaching and, as if to remind his disciples of the inability of human resources to deal with them, he asks his disciple Philip, “Where could we buy enough food for them to eat?” Of course, there are no places to buy food and even if there were they wouldn’t have enough money. There are only 5 loaves and two fish.

Then, look how the miracle takes place in John’s gospel. Jesus doesn’t have the people line up, as if in a breadline for a piece of bread to tide them over on their way home. No, he settles them all on the green grass as if he were seating them at a banquet table. Then, taking the loaves and giving thanks, “he distributed them to those who were reclining , and also as much of the fish as they wanted.”

And it’s not only enough for them to eat; there’s a lot left over, which they collect in baskets. “More than they could eat.”

What does the miracle say to us? Let’s go back to the beginning. Jesus seeing the crowd is God seeing us all, the whole human family in fact. He sees the hunger of the crowd that can’t be met by human resources alone. The miracle isn’t an answer to a temporary crisis; it’s a sign that points to something deeper, something lasting. God will be with us on our human journey. God will always be with us; God will give us what we need, and even more than we expect.

You see the promise we have in this miracle. It’s not something done long ago and then over. It’s a sign that goes on and on.

This miracle says there’s a hunger in human beings that only God can satisfy. We may hardly be aware of it; just as the crowds who came to Jesus that day may not have been aware of it. But he was.

It’s not just a hunger for food either; it’s a hunger for wisdom and knowledge that only God can give. “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”( Augustine) There’s something unsatisfied, something restless in us that can only be met by God. Our human hunger wont be satisfied by money, by success, by popularity, by things, by a healthy, perfect body. We can have all of these, but the question rises, “What then?” “What then?”

The miracle of the loaves and fish also points to the mystery of the Holy Eucharist, that beautiful sign so small and insignificant. Yet we sat it’s a banquet, God’s banquet. It’s the place where Jesus looks at us and see our hunger and offers food. He is our Bread of Life.

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The Martyrs of Damiel

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, most of them young students for the priesthood preparing for missionary work in Cuba and Mexico, were killed in 1936. Theirs is a tragic story, but also a story of God’s grace shining through human evil. We read their story today at Mass.

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.


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The Story of Ann and Joachim

Joachim among the Shepherds

Ann and Joachim were the parents of Mary, the mother of Jesus, and they lived in Jerusalem, tradition says, where Joachim, a descendant of David, had a role in the life of the temple. A wealthy man, he provided sheep and other offerings for the temple sacrifices.

Tradition says too that the couple had ties to Bethlehem and Nazareth.

They prospered in Jerusalem, but for twenty years one great trial clouded their marriage: they had no child. Even after they vowed to dedicate their child to God, no child came.

At a time when children were thought treasures, they were thought poor. As descendants of David, they were blamed for not continuing the line from which the Messiah would come.

Stung by the criticism, Joachim began to retreat to the mountains to brood among the shepherds and the sheep. As her husband distanced himself from her, Ann too felt the sadness of their childlessness.

God seemed far away.

In the garden one day, Ann noticed some sparrows building a nest in a laurel tree and she burst into tears: “Why was I born, Lord?” she said, “The 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 produces fruit, but I have no child to hold 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. Go to the Golden Gate in Jerusalem and meet your husband there.”

In the mountains, an angel in dazzling light also spoke to Joachim, “Don’t be afraid. I have come to tell you the Lord has heard 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, the mother of Samuel.

” Ann will bear you a daughter and you’ll call her Mary. Dedicate 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, where your sorrow will be turned 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.”

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

When Mary approached the customary marriage age–15 or so–her parent began to arrange for her marriage according to the custom of the time. They sought advice from the high priest in the temple, tradition says, and Joseph of Nazareth was chosen to be her husband. By then, Ann and Joachim made Nazareth their home.

It was during this time that 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. They raised him in a large extended family that included his grandparents, Ann and Joachim, who certainly cared for the Child.

No one knows just when Ann and Joachim died, – or where. But we must believe Jesus treasured them as they passed on to God.

This retelling of the story of Ann and Joachim is based on the 2nd century Protoevangelium of James–an apostle related to Jesus, incidentally. The illustrations of Giotto are found in the Arena in Florence, Italy. Giotto’s 14th century illustrations  helped popularize the story of Ann and Joachim in Italy and Europe.

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16th Sunday B: Rest Awhile

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

“Come by yourselves to an out-of-the-way place and rest awhile.”
Jesus says that to his disciples whom he sent out two by two to proclaim his message and to cure those on whom they laid their hands. In our reading today from Mark’s Gospel, they’re back, enthused by the way people responded to what they said and the powerful cures they worked. They had shared in the power of Jesus; they’re elated– and also probably tired too.

Instead of sending them out right away, Jesus tells them “Come by yourselves and rest awhile.” If we ever think of Jesus as a relentless campaigner, someone driving his disciples hard, just remember these words from the gospel. He tells his disciples to rest, even though I’m sure after they experienced such success they want to go out again as soon as possible.

“Rest awhile.” We have to live a balanced life. We can’t be working all the time, even if it’s an important, holy work. Physically, our bodies can wear out, if don’t get enough sleep or eat the way we should, or get a break from what we’re doing. Today so many people treat their bodies like machines. They don’t pay enough attention to them. They drive themselves. Our bodies are delicate gifts we need to care for. They need rest.

But also we need to rest spiritually. Let me say something about that.

I was listening recently to a group of young adults in their mid thirties who were talking about their careers and their jobs and all of their personal and financial goals. They wanted everything, but that’s not going to happen in a world that works 24 hour a day, where the computers never rest, where businesses have become seven day affairs.

We are living in a driven society, and we certainly need to change some of its punishing structures. That’s what Pope Francis is reminding us in his recent encyclical, “Laudato. Si.” But besides changing some of the unjust structures in our society, we also need to recognize another power at work besides us.

There’s a poem by the French poet Charles Peguy called “Sleep.” It’s a beautiful little poem in which God tells someone like us to take it easy and get some rest. In the poem God frequently says, “Do you think I can’t handle things without you?” Isn’t that what we often believe?

We need to pay attention to the presence of God. God guiding us, sustaining us. We need to hope in God. Here’s part of the poem:

Human wisdom says “Don’t put off until tomorrow
What can be done the very same day.”
But I tell you that he who knows how to put off until tomorrow
Is the most agreeable to God
He who sleeps like a child
Is also he who sleeps like my darling Hope.
And I tell you: Put off until tomorrow
Those worries and those troubles which are gnawing at you
Put off until tomorrow those sobs that choke you
When you see today’s unhappiness.
Those sobs which rise up and strangle you.
Put off until tomorrow those tears which fill your eyes and
your head,
Flooding you, rolling down your cheeks, those tears which
stream down your cheeks.
Because between now and tomorrow, maybe I, God, will have
passed by your way.
Human wisdom says: Woe to the one who puts off what he
has to do until tomorrow.
And I say Blessed, blessed is the one who puts off what he
has to do until tomorrow.
Blessed is the one who puts off. That is to say, blessed is the one who
hopes. And who sleeps.

The poem’s not advocating procrastination or an unwillingness to face reality. No. It’s asking us to believe that God’s with us, acting, guiding and sustaining us. We don’t have to do it all ourselves.

Going back to our reading for today, the disciples are overwhelmed by the crowds that descend on them in a deserted place. “What are we going to do?” they say. Our gospel next Sunday tells us what God does. He feeds the multitudes.


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Novena to St. Ann

Throughout the Catholic world novenas honoring St. Ann begin today.

You won’t find the names of Ann and Joachim in the bible, but they’re mentioned in one of the apocryphal books, the Protoevangelium of James, written shortly after our New Testament writings.

Interest in Jesus’ family came about because of claims that he was “Son of David,” the Messiah  expected to come from David’s line. Against those who said Jesus was only a carpenter from Nazareth, the infancy narratives in Matthew and Luke assert that  Jesus is the Messiah, descended from David.

The Protoevangelium of James also sees Joachim and Ann  in David’s line, and therefore Mary was too. It says they lived in Jerusalem. Did they accompany Mary to Nazareth after her marriage to Joseph? If so,  Jesus had grandparents taking care of him for a time.

If that’s true, it means Ann and Joachim gave Jesus something more besides proof of his bloodline.  Along with Mary and Joseph, they brought him up. As a young child he learned from them, the simplest and the most sublime things. Knowledge came to him, as it comes to us–through the senses, through mothers and fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers.

St. Ann is often pictured with her daughter Mary holding a small book in her hands. Written on the book in the statue here in this church are the words, “If today you hear God’s voice, harden not your heart,” a verse from the psalms.

Other statues of her have different words in the book. “I,2,3,4; A,B,C,D.” The basics of life. Or notice Giotto’s picture of the presentation of Mary in the temple. (above) Ann pushes her little daughter into the temple. Just like pushing kids to church today?

Parents and grandparents play a powerful role in the lives of their children and grandchildren. They teach kids their abc’s and the  sublime mysteries of faith. Maybe that’s why so many of them were here tonight in church.  They know that’s true.

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The Journey of the Mind

You would expect a theologian like St. Bonaventure to tell you to hit the books if you would want to go to God. After all, his treatise we read today on his feast is called “The Journey of the Mind to God.”

Instead he directs us to Christ and the Cross as our way to God.

” If you ask how such things can occur, seek the answer in God’s grace, not in doctrine; in the longing of the will, not in the understanding; in the sighs of prayer, not in research; seek the bridegroom not the teacher; God and not man; darkness not daylight; and look not to the light but rather to the raging fire that carries the soul to God with intense fervour and glowing love.”

A shelf of scripture commentaries and theology books wont bring us wisdom of themselves, St. Bonaventure says in his Breviloquium, otherwise only scholars would enter the kingdom of heaven.

“The stream of holy Scripture flows not from human research but from revelation by God. It springs from the Father of lights, from whom all fatherhood in heaven and on earth takes its name. From him, through his Son Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit flows into us; and through the Holy Spirit, giving, at will, different gifts to different people, comes the gift of faith, and through faith Jesus Christ has his dwelling in our hearts. This is the knowledge of Jesus Christ which is the ultimate basis of the solidity and wisdom of the whole of holy Scripture…

If we are to follow the direct path of Scripture and come straight to the final destination, then right from the beginning – when simple faith starts to draw us towards the light of the Father – our hearts should kneel down and ask the Father to give us, through his Son and the Holy Spirit, true knowledge of Jesus and of his love. Once we know him and love him like this, we shall be made firm in faith and deeply rooted in love, and we can know the breadth, length, depth and height of holy Scripture.”


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