Monthly Archives: November 2015

1st Sunday of Advent: C Waiting for the Birth of a Child

Audio homily here:

We’re beginning the season of Advent, a season to get ready for the feast of Christmas and the birth of a Child. For four weeks we will light a candle reminding us of the Light to come. We will hear the Old Testament prophets who spoke of his coming, and John the Baptist and his mother Mary who welcomed him when he came.

But today’s readings seem to be getting us ready for the end of the world. And they are. How else can we read what Jesus says in Luke’s gospel?

“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars,
and on earth nations will be in dismay,
perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves.
People will die of fright
in anticipation of what is coming upon the world,
for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.”

Sounds like a nightmare. And it is.

Now, a nightmare’s the last thing we want as we prepare for Christmas and the birth of a Child.
Why read scary things today that seem to echo today’s grim headlines about terrorism, planes shot down, people killed for no reason at all, climate change? We want normal lives. Like the people from the days of Noah whom Jesus describes, we’re looking for good, safe lives “eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, building” (Luke 17, 26-30) and seeing the birth of children. We’re looking for a peaceful world.

How shall we understand these readings that seem to describe, not only the reality of our world today, but a world in turmoil and falling apart? Is Jesus telling us, as we listen to them, that God is with us, not only when life is ordinary and good, but also when life holds wars, earthquakes, famines, plagues, and persecutions. God’s with us at all times, no matter what. God’s kingdom will come, no matter what. So don’t be afraid when you see signs like these, Jesus says. “Stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand.” (Luke 21,28)

Not a hair of our heads will be harmed; we will have the strength to endure whatever happens, we will have the wisdom to keep going, Jesus says.

At the same time, we’re told in the gospel not to live lives of denial or lives of escape. We can’t live unthinking lives, lives of “carousing and drunkenness.” Lives swallowed up by “the anxieties of daily life.“

In Luke’s gospel Jesus tells us to live each day as best we can and take up the cross we have to bear each day as best we can. He gives himself to us as an example. As a Child born in Bethlehem, he lived under threats of death and eventually faced death; he lived most of his days in ordinary Nazareth and brief days when he was recognized for powerful deeds. Live each day as it comes, he says, not swallowed up by “the anxieties of daily life,” trapped by small concerns. Live each day as you’re given it; God is there in the ordinary day.

We’re in Advent, getting reading for the birth of a Child, a powerful Child who holds in his hands our future and the future of our world. This same Child is with us each day. We welcome him as the Lord who lives with us each day. The Child we welcome at Christmas is also the Son of Man who will come on the clouds of heaven on the last day, bringing God’s kingdom and judging the living and the dead. He is our Savior and Lord.

Feast of Christ the King

Audio version here:

This Sunday for the Feast of Christ the King we’re reading from the Gospel of John. As you read John’s gospel, you notice that much of it is made up of the lengthy teachings of Jesus to his disciples and those who oppose him. At the Last Supper, for example, John gospel quotes extensively for almost five chapters what Jesus says to his disciples about who he is and what he wants them to be. “I am the vine, you are the branches…Love one another as I have loved you…Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.” John’s gospel is filled with the words of Jesus.

But then, as Jesus leaves the supper room that night and crosses over the Kidron Valley, you notice he hardly says a word. It’s not the time for words; it’s the time to act, to be who he says he is, no matter what.

You notice in the garden of Gethsemane Jesus hardly answers those who come to take him. His words are few to the leaders of the people who bring him to trial. Then he’s brought before Pontius Pilate. This is one of the great scenes of the gospel story. Jesus before Pontius Pilate. Pilate in his fine robes seated on the raised judgment seat, where powerful Roman justice was meted out. The Romans didn’t like long trials; they were masters of quick judgments and getting things done.

Jesus stands below the Roman judge tied and beaten, soon to be scourged and crowned with thorns.

You can hear the sarcasm, the disdain in Pilate’s questions: “Are you the king of the Jews? …What have you done?” You can hear quiet, unshaken conviction in Jesus’ response. “I am a king, for this was I born and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth hears my voice.”

John’s gospel has a way of presenting the story with wonderful irony. Pilate seems to be all powerful, in control of everything, but his power passes away. Even his sentence of death in overturned; Jesus rose from the dead.

Jesus seems to be a condemned nobody, but he’s the stronger of the two. He knows who he is, he’s born a king, and that dignity never leaves him, whether he’s threatened, or ridiculed, or made fun of, or beaten, or put to death. He knows he’s a king. He’s knows he tells the truth, no matter what. He knows that ultimately truth wins out, because God is true.

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate,” In those words our creed summarize the whole story of his passion of Jesus. They can summarize our lives too. How hard that is to understand, but think about it. When we see Jesus, we see ourselves. We say, “I’m not a king; I’m not God made flesh.” That’s true. But we’re children of God, given life by God, made for a purpose. We have a mission in this life. Jesus himself says we have, and he is with us to accomplish that mission.

“He suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Is there a way we do that too? Well, can the powers of this world, the day by day world, the official world, the world of leisure, the world of culture–can that world intimidate us, threaten us, ridicule us, make fun of us, question our truth, frighten us to death? Sure it can. We can all suffer under Pontius Pilate.

And so we come to the Lord who did that once, and ask him to stand with us and make us strong and remind us who we are and feed us with the bread of the strong and wisdom of truth.

Friday Thoughts: To All Gathered in Thought and Prayer

by Howard Hain

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Jesus Christ is Real.

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He is not made of wood or ink or paint. He is not a distant figure from a distant past. He is here. We gather in His name—He is here. He is as real as each one of us. He is what makes each one of us real.

The message is simple:

He is the Son of God. He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. He is Love. He is Forgiveness. He is Humility. He is Boldness and Obedience.

He is Lord. He is God. He is Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

He is Christ Jesus, and He is Real.

I see Him now in each of you. I say to Him, I say to you: “I love You, my Lord and my God.”

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Now, let us go and tell others…

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egon-schiele-conversion-78198

Egon Schiele, “Conversion” (1912)

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And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.”

— Matthew 28:20

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33rd Sunday B: When the Stars Fall

Audio  homily here:

Pope Benedict said before his retirement that the gospels about the end of time, which we’re reading these Sundays at Mass, are the hardest gospels to preach about. I think he’s right. What can we say about a time when everything in our world is turned upside down? The sun is darkened, the moon doesn’t give light, stars fall from the sky. A frightening time, a time of tribulation, the gospel says, hard to imagine, harder to explain.

We want a solid, predictable life and we like a solid predictable life, where the sun shines, there’s day and night, and the ground is solid under our feet.

That’s the world Jesus and his disciples were experiencing in today’s gospel. They’re on the Mount of Olives overlooking Jerusalem, with its superb view of the great city and its evirons. It’s shortly before he’s arrested and put to death. They have just come from the temple which was then almost completely rebuilt by King Herod, one of the master builders of the time.

His disciples were delighted with the beauty of the place. “Look, teacher, how wonderful those buildings are.” Not only were they admiring the temple and the city before them, but in a way this was now their city. Crowds had welcomed them and brought Jesus into the city in triumph when they had come up from Galilee. The city’s leaders, even though they saw Jesus as a threat, feared to act against him. In a way Jesus and his disciples owned this place.

“Do you see those great buildings?” Jesus said to them, “There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.” His words came true some time later, in 70 AD, when Roman armies completely destroyed the city of Jerusalem and its temple, not leaving one stone upon another.

That tragedy was some years off, when Jesus spoke, but very shortly they faced a tragedy of another kind. That was the death of Jesus himself, who had become so much a part of their life. He would be arrested and abused and killed on a cross, and they did not expect it all. Instead of the promise of a solid, successful life, which he seemed to bring them, their world came crashing down.

This gospel certainly reminds us that however solid and permanent our world may seem the time will come when the Lord will judge the living and the dead. We don’t know the day or the hour.

But let’s remember too that this gospel is also about our time, when our own worlds may seem to end. Tragedies of every kind can do that to us: sickness, failure, disappointments, death. Things we did not expect at all. These are times when the sun goes dark, the moon gives no light, and the stars fall from he skies.

God can seem far off at these times, maybe not there at all. Our lives may seem ready to end. There’s no hope we can see. But listen again to the words of our Lord. Times like these are not the end. God’s still with us; God’s love never ends.

“And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’
with great power and glory,
and then he will send out the angels
and gather his elect from the four winds,
from the end of the earth to the end of the sky.”

Jesus is our Savior. What he said to his disciples he says to us: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

Friday Thoughts: Crucified Love

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Caravaggio, Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1601), detail

Caravaggio, Crucifixion of Saint Peter (1601), detail

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Jesus then said to his disciples: “If a man wishes to come after me, he must deny his very self, take up his cross, and begin to follow in my footsteps. Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

—Matthew 16:24-25

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God is so very good to us, especially when He shows us that all those seemingly meaningless moments within the grind and monotony of worldly ways are actually the loving splinters of His blessed Cross and the purifying thorns of the crown violently thrust down upon His gentle head. What a gift!

For if we are to die daily, a cross is needed, and oh how ingenious is our Lord in designing new crosses!

Enough then of the nonsense of complaining! No, stand on your head, let God flip you over so that the world thinks you are upside down. Yes, embrace your cross, kiss it, sleep on it, sleep the sleep of death upon it—so that your soul with Christ’s may truly be entrusted into the hands of the Father, your will completely abandoned into God’s perfect providence. For how can we be purely passive in His perfect presence when we continue to restlessly ask Him to remove His loving embrace?

Yes, it is! His cross for you, the cross He gives to you—your cross—is an embrace. That is exactly what it is: a hug, a kiss, a warm bed to rest within, a cradle in which to lay—a cradle and a cross in which lies an infant Christ, the Divine Word made flesh once again!

Praise God for His mercy, praise God for all that we do not understand and need not understand, for His gift of Faith is all we need! Believe, and if you doubt, ask, ask the creator of everything for more faith. It truly is simple, as simple as a manger, as simple as a small family of three living in an out of the way place, as simple as two old trunks of a tree crisscrossed and wedged between a few uncut stones.

Never, never let the world convince you that what is in reality a purifying gift—the cross as made manifest so often and in so many “little” ways—is anything other than a gift. For to follow Christ without a cross is to deny His great love for us—for His love is so grand that not only did He die for us but that He also wants us to cooperate, to participate, to share, to “co-labor” in His awesome work of salvation! And we do so by dying with Him. In pure union with Him.

It is all too much, too much love to comprehend. Oh faith, more faith, let us receive You, Christ Jesus, and may we fully partake in what You ceaselessly offer: Your Divine Nature.

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“The Spirit himself gives witness with our spirit that we are children of God. But if we are children, we are heirs as well: heirs of God, heirs with Christ, if only we suffer with him so as to be glorified with him.”

—Romans 8:16-17

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O Crucified Love, crucify me with Your love!

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Amen

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(Friday Thoughts is a new series to appear every Friday, written by various members of the extended Passionist community.)

31st Sunday B: Our Planet’s Keeper

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

Our first reading today from the Book of Kings describes a drought that afflicted Palestine thousands of years ago. It’s a dismal picture. There’s been no rain. The crops have failed. Water’s scarce and the land’s desolate. A poor widow is scrounging for some sticks to start a fire. The people most affected by this drought are the poor.

It’s a natural disaster. The reading reminds us that God is present, even in desperate situations like droughts and other natural disasters. But scientists today are telling us that many of the disturbances in our world now- storms, droughts, the unusual weather changes that threaten us–are not from nature alone; they’re man-made. We’re facing an environmental crisis that can bring irreparable harm to our world. We certainly need God’s help. But we need to do something about it ourselves.

I was at a symposium on the environment at Fordham University on November 3, 2015. It was entitled: Our Planet’s Keeper? The Environment, the Poor and the Struggle for Justice.” The speakers were Cardinal Oscar Rodriquez Maradiaga from Honduras and Professor Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University and advisor to the United Nations on millennium environmental goals.

The symposium dealt with two important areas. One was Pope Francis’ recent encyclical Laudato Si issued on May 24, 2015. The encyclical addresses our global environmental crisis and is probably the most widely received papal document in modern times. As a South American Francis has experienced firsthand the crisis of the environment on that continent and its affect on the poor. His letter is addressed, not only to Catholics, but to the peoples of the world.

The pope timed his letter to influence another important event, namely the critical meeting on the environment to be held in late November and early December in Paris of representatives of the nations of the world. The name of the meeting is COP21, that’s bureaucrat-speak for meetings sponsored by the United Nations that have been going on for the last 21 years trying to deal with climate change. Since 1992 at the Earth Summit in Rio di Janeiro countries of the world have been seeking “stabilization of greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system”. The goal is to keep the rise in global mean temperature to 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels—beyond which disaster seems inevitable.

Unfortunately, nothing has been achieved in the 21 years of those meetings. In his encyclical Pope Francis charged that by putting “national interests above the global common good”, the world is guilty of “failure of conscience and responsibility” regarding the environment.

At the meeting at Fordham Professor Sachs welcomed the pope’s encyclical as a “moral voice” we need to hear. He saw the pope’s subsequent visit to world leaders at the United Nations as a positive influence on the upcoming meeting in Paris. He also sees a change in public opinion throughout the world and in our country concerning the environment.

Public opinion–that’s us. I don’t think we think much about issues of the environment. The media certainly doesn’t. I haven’t heard the environment brought up in our political debates so far. That’s probably because politicians, following their pollsters, think people are more interested in the economy, jobs, federal spending and health care.

That may be changing. A recent poll in October of the “National Surveys on Energy and the Environment” from the University of Michigan and Muhlenberg College reports a big spike over the summer in Americans–70%– who believe in global warming. That’s 10% increase from this time last year. One author of the poll said the reason from the increase is not that people are listening to the scientists or reports from the UN or– I would say– even the pope. They’re “responding to their perception of weather,” he said; “… what last summer or winter was like.”

So people are looking out the window or seeing the reports on television. We have had the hottest summer on record, the strongest hurricane on record, a water shortage and rationing in California, drought throughout the world displacing millions of people who are looking for another place to live.

The danger is that our world may begin to look a lot like the world described in our first reading today. Do we want to leave that kind of world to our children and the next generations? We need to know much more about this crisis than we do; we need to do more about it than we’re doing.

The cardinal at our symposium the other day urged people to read the pope’s encyclical. It’s not just about climate change, the pope is calling for a change in the way we live and the way we think. and the way we care for our world.

The title of the symposium the other day was Our Planet’s Keeper? Who’s our planet’s keeper? We are.

Friday Thoughts: First Responder

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When our faith falters may our first response be

to strengthen another’s.

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Titian (Tiziano), Christ Carrying the Cross (1565)

Titian (Tiziano), Christ Carrying the Cross (1565)

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On their way out they met a Cyrenian named Simon.

This man they pressed into service to carry the cross.

—Matthew 27:32

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(Friday Thoughts is a new series to appear every Friday, written by various members of the extended Passionist community.)nity.)