Monthly Archives: January 2016

4th Sunday C Help Us Lord to Believe

 

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

For two Sunday’s we have been reading the long account from St. Luke’s gospel of Jesus’ return to Nazareth, his hometown, as he begins his ministry in Galilee. I mentioned last week Luke’s interest in Jesus’ early life. More than any other evangelist, he writes about Jesus early years.

The four gospels take a dim view of Nazareth, the hometown of Jesus Christ. Early in his gospel, John says that Philip, one of Jesus’ first disciples,  invited Nathaniel to meet “Jesus, son of Joseph, from Nazareth.” “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathaniel replies. (John 1,46).

 The gospels of Mathew and Mark  recall the sad rejection of Jesus by his hometown after his baptism by John the Baptist.  Matthew places it after Jesus has spoken to a large crowd in parables. Then, he goes to Nazareth and speaks in the synagogue to his own townspeople, who are at first astonished at his wisdom, but they wonder where did “the carpenter’s son” get all this. They know his mother and his family, and they reject him. (Matthew 13,54-58)

Mark’s gospel puts the event after Jesus has raised a little girl from the dead. Going to Nazareth with his disciples, he’s greeted in the synagogue with astonishment because of his wisdom; they’ve heard of his mighty deeds, but then they ask where did this “carpenter” get all of this? He’s “Mary’s son” and they know his family. Jesus “was amazed at their lack of faith.”    (Mark 6,1-5)

In Luke’s gospel Jesus goes into the synagogue at Nazareth almost immediately after his baptism and reads from the Prophet Isaiah the passage: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me; He has anointed me…” Jesus says he’s fulfilling the words of the prophet. He’s the Messiah.

In the reading today the people of Nazareth not only reject him but try to put him to death. They are people who have known him all his life, we presume even members of his family are among them.

Here is a concrete example of what’s said in another gospel: “He came to his own and his own received him not.” Of course, their reaction surprises us. How could they be so blind? How could they not see?

Our first reading today may offer some insight into their reaction. It’s about the Prophet Jeremiah who also met opposition from his own people and was put to death for his claims. Maybe he can help us understand what happened at Nazareth?

The prophet speaks for God. “Stand up and tell them what I command you,” God says to Jeremiah, “I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” But when God first calls him, Jeremiah shrinks from the task. ” Don’t send me, I’m just a child.” They know me too well; I
I don’t have the status, the aura of a prophet.

That seems to be what happened at Nazareth. They knew Jesus too well. “Isn’t this the carpenter’s son?” They doubt, they want more proof. “The prophet is honored, except in his native place,” Jesus says,amazed at their unbelief.

The prophet speaks for God, but what God says through the prophet may not be to our liking. Sometimes it seems too good to be true. We’re cynical people. We think like human beings, not like God. Would God promise us a life beyond death, beyond suffering, beyond disappointment, beyond failure. Could God be the carpenter’s son? Could it be true,as the Letter to the Hebrews says, “In times past, God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets,but in these last days he has spoken to us through his Son.” (Hebrews 1, 1-2) Could God so love the world that he would send his Son to bring us life?

Let’s not be too harsh with the people of Nazareth. When we are looking at them, we are looking at ourselves.

Let’s ask for faith, faith like Mary his mother had. Let’s ask that we listen to his words and believe in his promises. Let’s ask that we follow Jesus Christ in the mysteries of his life, death and resurrection, till he reveal himself to us and we share in his glory. Help us, Lord, to believe in you.

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Friday Thoughts: Instrument of Peace

jean_francois_de_troy_christ_carrying_the_cross_and_a_subsidiary_study_d5529612h

Jean Francois de Troy (1679-1752), Christ carrying the Cross, study

.When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.—John 19:30

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The cross is merely an instrument.

For there is nothing inherently painful about the trunk of a tree.

It is not the cross itself that crucifies.

But there is something about the cross that leads us either to death or to life.

It is our relationship with that piece of “wood” that ultimately colors our perception of earthly existence and its inherent sufferings.

And Christ shows us the way.

For there has never been a man more at peace than Christ Jesus upon The Cross—for there has never been a man more aligned to the will of The Father.

Yes, from the eyes of the world it was complete chaos. It was an utter mess. Destruction. Torture. Shame. Disappointment. A mockery. But from Heaven’s perspective it was complete fulfillment. It was utter completion. It was wholeness. It was oneness. It was unity. It was Shalom.

For Christ knew the joy set before Him.

Yet He who existed before time did not manipulate time in order to escape what was in reality unspeakable pain.

And that is what He teaches.

Not to deny the pain. Not to even to avoid it. But to experience it from within the realm of His Kingdom, and as He Himself tells us, that Kingdom “is within”, that Kingdom “is at hand”.

That Kingdom is here and now when there is no separation between God’s child and His will.

Christ shows us this through His Passion.

He shows us that it is our relationship with those crisscrossed beams that makes carrying them either hard and heavy or “easy” and “light”.

He shows us that all our joy depends on our relationship with suffering—with our relationship with The Cross—with our relationship with The Tree of Life.

Our Father has given us free will in order to make a simple choice. To love or not to love…and “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”.

We love one another by dying for each other—by “spending” our lives in service of one another—and the cross is the bridge that allows us to span that exchange.

The cross is merely an instrument.

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“For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”—Hebrews 12:2

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—Howard Hain

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Dorothy Day

When Fr. William Bausch ended his service as pastor of St. Mary’s, Colts Neck, NJ, some years ago, he gave the parish a gift– a statue of Dorothy Day, which is outside the main entrance to the present church. She’s an elderly woman sitting quietly on a bench.

Her quiet appearance may throw you off. The Jesuit poet Daniel Berrigan wrote at the time of her death in 1980: “Those of us who knew her in her later years were tempted to regard her, I think, rather thoughtlessly…She seemed to always have been as she was: serene, graced with her aura of piety and pity.”

Actually, Dorothy Day who dedicated herself to championing the poor was one of the most dynamic and challenging figures in the Catholic Church in recent times. In 2013 the Catholic bishops of the United States voted unanimously to push her cause for canonization as a saint.

Some might not consider her a candidate for sainthood. She was born in Brooklyn in 1897. Her father was a journalist and her family  moved from place to place– the West Coast, Chicago– and she became of journalist too.

As a young woman in the 1920s she was part of the bohemian scene in New York City, a rebel with “a passion for freedom to the point of waywardness.” (Daniel Berrigan) She had a failed marriage, attempted suicide, had an abortion. After the birth of her daughter, she became a Catholic and then founder of the Catholic Worker Movement, which worked for the poor and social justice, was critical of capitalism and against war. With that kind background, I wonder how many Catholic parishes would invite her as a speaker today.

I’m delighted the bishops are pushing for her canonization. Saints are antidotes to the poison of their time. Dorothy counteracts a lot of poison. There’s the poison in the way we look at the poor and the weak in our society, for example; in our trust in war, in our belief in our political systems. She questioned those positions.

What’s more, she’s an example of the power of faith. Many today, of course, write off the Catholic Church and religion in general, as irrelevant. As a young woman she read a lot, from the Communist Manifesto to the bible. She wanted to reform the world, but as a young woman the church put her off. Christians looked like everyone else, she said:

“I did not see anyone taking off his coat and giving it to the poor. I didn’t see anyone having a banquet and call in the lame, the halt and the blind…I wanted everyone to be kind. I wanted every home to open to the lame, the halt and the blind…Only then did people really help their neighbor. In such love was the abundant life, and I did not have the slightest idea how to find it.”

Yet, remarkably, through the disguise, in the dirt that so often hides it, Dorothy found the pearl of great price. She embraced the Catholic Church.

I think Dorothy Day also contradicts the belief that people no longer search for God, that God is irrelevant. She writes in her autobiography “The Long Loneliness” “All my life I have been haunted by God…A Cleveland Communist once said, ‘Dorothy was never a Communist; she was too religious.’ How much did I hear of religion as a child? Very little, and yet my heart leaped when I heard the name of God. I do believe every soul has a tendency toward God. ‘As soon as someone recalls God, a certain sweet movement fills his heart…Our understanding never has such great joy as when thinking of God.’” (St. Francis de Sales)

She reminds us the “long loneliness”–that’s the title she gave to her autobiography–  is the search for God that goes on in us all.

There’s a lot poisoning our times; Dorothy offers an antidote to it. “It is a great pity that there are not many more like Dorothy Day among the millions of American Catholics. There are never enough such people, somehow, in the church. But, without a few like her, one might well begin to wonder if we are still Christians, her presence is in some ways a comfort, in some ways a reproach.” (Letter from Thomas Merton)

 

Her autobiography “The Long Loneliness” is worth reading and rereading.  The Catholic Worker has a blog at http://www.catholicworker.org .  Here a short video from CNS

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3rd and 4th Sunday C; His Own Turn Against Him

Audio homily here:

Luke begins his account of Jesus’ public life by recalling his return to Nazareth after his baptism by John in the Jordan. This Sunday and next Sunday we read from Luke’s long account of that event.

Mark and Matthew tell this story later in their gospels, but Luke, who concentrates more on Jesus’ early life than the other evangelists, puts the beginning of Jesus’  public life in Nazareth, in the synagogue where he worshipped, among those who knew him best. (Luke 4, 14-21)

Luke paints the coming of Jesus into this world in broad, sweeping terms in his gospel. Caesar Augustus was the world’s ruler, Herod ruled in Palestine, others ruled under them. At the same time, he focuses on Jesus’ own personal history. Born in Bethlehem, Jesus’ first home is an obscure village in northern Galilee– Nazareth, where he grows “in wisdom and age and grace, before God and man.” There he was brought up.

The synagogue at Nazareth was probably like other synagogues in the towns of Galilee. Some, like that at Magdala on the Sea of Galilee, have been excavated in recent times. It was a small one story rectangular building, with two tiers of seating all around its walls, made for a town of no more than 500 people. In the middle of the synagogue was a stand holding copies of the various books of the scriptures. The synagogue was the center of life in those towns.

Jesus has returned to Nazareth after beginning his ministry “all through Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and praised by all. (Luke 4, 14-15) Now, back home, he goes into the synagogue on the Sabbath, “as he was accustomed to do.”

He gets up from his place to read the scriptures. (From the same place where he sat for years? Was Mary his mother there with him?) He’s “ handed a scroll of the prophet Isaiah.

He unrolled the scroll and found the passage where it was written:

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,

because he has anointed me

to bring glad tidings to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim liberty to captives

and recovery of sight to the blind,

to let the oppressed go free,

and to proclaim a year acceptable to the Lord.

Rolling up the scroll, he handed it back to the attendant and sat down,

and the eyes of all in the synagogue looked intently at him.

He said to them,

“Today this Scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.”

A short sermon, and a powerful statement. “This scripture passage is fulfilled in your hearing.” The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, Jesus says. I’m anointed to bring glad tiding to the poor. Jesus claims a messianic calling.

His neighbors, who have known him for years, are first impressed, then question him, then deny his claims, then threaten to put him to death.

In their gospels, Mark and Matthew describe opposition to Jesus coming first from the scribes and Pharisees, the leaders from Jerusalem, but Luke sees opposition to Jesus coming first from his own hometown, from family, neighbors and friends. He knows how important this rejection is.

It’s true, isn’t it? When we enter this world, we enter the small unit of human life, a family, and beyond the family, the people and places that shape us early in life. We’re subject to this important smallness, our “Nazareths” where we grow “in wisdom and grace.” We’re first nourished there; we look for lasting love and support there. It means so much to us.

Throughout his ministry, Jesus will know opposition. Leaders of the people, public officials will oppose him.  In his final days, his own disciples will abandon him. Only a few will stand by his cross. The physical sufferings he endured were great. He was scourged, his head was crowned with thorns, his hands were nailed to a cross, he died hanging there long hours alone.

But rejection from his own at Nazareth will weigh heavily on him. It was a big part of the mystery of his cross. “He was amazed at their unbelief.” Yet, Jesus who embraced humanity with love, embraced Nazareth too. He loved it with God’s great love.

We have to pay a lot of attention to where we’re born, where we’re brought up, our families, the people we live and work with. Nazareth is important to us.

 

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Friday Thoughts: Perfect Purpose

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Lord God, let me truly enter Your Church.

Yes, my Lord, let me truly enter Your Body.

Let me enter Your Glorious Wounds.

Yes, my God, let me pierce the wound in Your Side.

And let me go deep within.

Let me make my way to Your Sacred Heart—and let me find its core—the essence of Your Being.

O then O Lord, O then shall I be!

For then shall I be as You will me to be—an individual drop of Your Most Precious Blood—circulating deep within—all to the perfect purpose of the Body, all in the perfect unity of the Spirit, all for the perfect glory of the Father.

God be praised!

So be it. So be it.

Amen. Amen.

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—Howard Hain

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Does God Care Who Leads Us?

I’ve been watching the Republican and Democratic debates and, like many, I’m worried about the future. Who’s going to lead us?

Today’s Old Testament reading from the Book of Samuel at Mass makes clear that, in the case of David’s accession as leader of the Jews, there’s no debate, nor primaries, nor votes by the people. God decides. “Fill your horn with oil, and be on your way,” God says to Samuel, “I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem, for I have chosen my king from among his sons.”

Samuel goes through all of Jesse’s sons, but none fit the bill. “Not him, not him, not him,” God says as one after the other are brought to Samuel. “Are these all the sons you have?” Samuel asks,

Jesse replied, “There is still the youngest, who is tending the sheep.”

Samuel said to Jesse,

“Send for him; we will not begin the sacrificial banquet until he arrives here.”

Jesse sent and had the young man brought to them. He was ruddy, a youth handsome to behold and making a splendid appearance.

The LORD said, “There–anoint him, for this is he!”

Then Samuel, with the horn of oil in hand, anointed him in the midst of his brothers; and from that day on, the Spirit of the LORD rushed upon David.” I Samuel 16,1-13)

Is God is still interested in leaders for our people? Does God send the Spirit on them?  Questions we don’t ask in our secular world.

“Anoint him, there he is,” God says to Samuel, and the prophet pours the horn of olive oil on David. Know what the oil poured upon the new king means? He’s anointed. He has strength and power he didn’t have before. The unprepared young shepherd, David, last on Jesse’s list, needs God’s grace to lead the people. You need grace to lead.

Be nice for our candidates to realize that. And us too.

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Pierre Toussaint

Toussaint

We’re observing a day in honor of Doctor Martin Luther King today.

The US Catholic Catechism for Adults, which you can get online, introduces various parts of Christian belief with the life of a saint or holy person to illustrate that belief. It introduces us to Jesus Christ with the life of Pierre Toussaint, born a Haitian slave in 1766 and brought to New York City where he lived an extraordinary Christian life until his death in 1853.

“Toussaint was motivated by a profound love of Jesus Christ, and his inspiring story leads us to a prayerful study of our Blessed Lord.”

Why not a better known saint like St. Francis or St. Paul or Mary, his mother? Toussaint was a slave, a rank society saw as humanity’s lowest. But when he died, New York’s newspapers recognized him “ a man of the warmest and most active benevolence.” His goodness was legendary.

When Jesus, God’s Son, came among us “he took the form of a slave,” St. Paul says. “He became obedient, even to death, death on a cross.”

Toussaint came to New York City with his French owners, the Berard family, shortly before the Haitian revolution in 1789. He lived in New York almost 66 years. A successful hair-dresser, confidant to some of New York’s most prestigious Protestant families, extraordinarily generous and faithful to the poor, a devout parishioner of St. Peter’s church on Barley Street, at Mass each morning at 6 AM. At his death in 1853 he was acclaimed one of New York’s finest citizens.

St. Peter's Church

St. Peter’s Church

His body now lies in the crypt under the main altar of New York’s St. Patrick’s Cathedral and his cause for canonization has begun.

Some question why Toussaint wasn’t more aggressive in the struggle against slavery. He could have easily won his own freedom well before 1807, when Madame Berard  emancipated him before her death. Why didn’t he? Why wasn’t he active in the abolitionist movement against slavery then? Some call him an “Uncle Tom,” a subservient black man afraid to confront powerful interests in society .

When the abolitionists and the Quakers approached Toussaint about joining them, he said he feared violence would erupt in the United States, like the violence destroying Haiti then.IMG_1851

But Toussaint was influenced by a higher reason, suggested in the Letter to the Romans and the Gospel of Luke that are filled with “slave language.” Paul begins his letter to the Romans, “Paul, a slave of Jesus Christ,” and goes on to describe humanity enslaved either to sin or to righteousness. If you’re a slave to righteousness you’re on your way to freedom.

A parable in Luke’s gospel (Luke 12, 39-48) also speaks of slaves. The steward “placed by his master to distribute the food allowance at the proper time” is a slave. His job, the main duty he has, is to give food to other slaves. If he decides against that, if he says “I’m going to take care of myself. I’m finished with all this,” and loses respect for the other slaves, he’s going to be punished when his Master returns. (Luke 12,39-48)

You can hear the insistence of Jesus on serving others in the parable. Loving and serving others is his great commandment, more important than the color of your skin, or your status in life or even fighting for a cause.

Toussaint understood that. His first biographer was Hannah Farnham Sawyer Lee, a Protestant woman who wrote about him shortly after his death. It’s a lovely biography, of memories she and others had of him. She admired his character, his good deeds, his genuine love for people, black or white:

“He never felt degraded by being a black man, or even a slave…he was to serve God and his fellow men, and so fulfill the duties of the situation in which he was placed…. He was deeply impressed with the character of Christ; he heard a sermon from Dr. Channing, which he often quoted. “My friends,” said Channing, “Jesus can give you nothing so precious as himself, as his own mind. May this mind be in you.”

Those last words, of course, come from Paul’s Letter to the Philippians: “Have this mind in you which was in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped.*
Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness;
and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross.…Philippians 2, 6-9

Toussaint made the mind of Jesus his own.images

I find Toussaint an interesting figure today, in the light of the present movement for human rights, which some say has become the new religion. The movement for human rights can become edgy and loud, sometimes violent, even unjust. Some say it needs to interact more with the message of the gospel.

A homilist awhile ago spoke about the need for love in the difficult situations we face in our world and quoted Martin Luther King. “Someone asked Martin Luke King, ‘What will we do if the whites continue to discriminate and mistreat us?’ ‘We will continue to love them to the point that they can’t do anything else but love in return.’”

That sounds like Toussaint, and Jesus.

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