Monthly Archives: February 2016

Reading the Scriptures

bible

I began a mission at Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, NC tonight with some suggestions. First, get a good bible, like the New American Bible, Revised Edition–  a good translation, good notes and it’s the bible we read in church in our liturgies.

More and more, the bible is becoming our ordinary catechism, prayer book and spiritual reading. At the Second Vatican Council our church embraced the scriptures and the tools of modern scriptural scholarship for understanding the bible. We are becoming a more biblically based church. Some of Pope Francis’ most important reflections, for example, come from the scriptures he’s reading at daily Mass.

My second suggestion it to read the bible with the church. Follow the scripture readings read on Sundays and throughout the year. Each Sunday through the year we read one gospel consecutively. This year we’re reading from the Gospel of Luke.

The church’s lectionary is an opportunity for all of us to hear and reflect on the scriptures together. Reading the scriptures is not only for our personal enrichment, it can build up a parish community and families that hear the word of God together.

I recommend some online resources. The US Bishops’ site http://www.usccb.org/nab/y offers the New American Bible, the lectionary of readings for the year, as well as commentaries on the scriptures. The Passionists have daily reflections on the scripture readings at www.thepassionists.org. I comment mostly on the lectionary readings in this blog. vhoagland.wordpress.com

Today it’s important to learn about the bible from good sources. Not all the programs on the biblr on television from The History Channel and National Geographic and others are reliable.  Sometimes the programs are fundamentalist and simplistic, or sometimes use sensationalism to attract viewers.

Finally, don’t be afraid to meditate on the gospels. Some of the most beautiful insights into the gospels come from ordinary people praying from the scriptures. I think of Brigid of Sweden, whose reflections on the Passion of Jesus gave us the Pieta, the image of the dead body of Jesus cradled in his mother’s arms beneath the cross. The gospels say nothing of that scene, but Brigid said it had to be.

Meditation on the scriptures can also take place in a traditional prayer like the rosary. Pope John Paul II recommended this form of meditation in which we join Mary, who “treasured all these things and kept them in her heart.

If we meditate on the scriptures, we will meet Jesus, not only Jesus of the gospels or the the Risen Jesus who promise to be with us all days. It will lead us to meet the Lord in the least, the Lord in disguise, the Lord of the poor who calls us to the corporal and spiritual works of mercy

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Monday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1
Readings

Scholars say that the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus was the first story told by his disciples and the first story they wrote down. The other gospel stories were written down after it and point to it. Whatever gospel story we read–we’re reading about the rejection of Jesus at Nazareth  from Luke’s gospel today, for example–is part of the mystery of his death and resurrection.     

Luke  brings us  to Nazareth, where Jesus lived most of his life among “his own.” (Luke 4,24-30) As he begins  his ministry  he is rejected by ” his own”  in their synagogue. It was a rejection Jesus must have carried with him;  how could he forget it?

The crowds welcoming  him to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday call him “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee,”  but  few from Nazareth accompany him there.  Some women from Galilee  stand by his cross as he dies. Still, from what we know of Nazareth and its subsequent history, Jesus didn’t find much acceptance there. “He came to his own and his own received him not.”

The great Cross we see on Calvary draws attention to the physical sufferings of Jesus in his passion–the scourging, the thorns, the crucifixion. But let’s not forget his interior sufferings, especially the increasing rejection he experienced from “his own,” from those who knew him from the beginning and those who follow him into Jerusalem.

The lenten gospels prepare us to share in the great mystery of Jesus’ death and resurrection. We may never share in his physical sufferings, but rejection by “our own,”  maybe someone close to us, will always be one of the ways we share in the sufferings of Jesus. At the same time let’s not forget that rejecting “our own”  brings suffering to others.

Nazareth where Jesus was rejected is not far from the people and the places where we live.

Lord,

help me  face the slights the come from those close by,

from my Nazareth, from “my own.”

The mystery of your Cross is not played out on Calvary alone,

It’s played out in the places and people close by,

where we live now.

Give me the grace to live in my Nazareth

as you did in yours.

I ask this grace through Jesus Christ.

 

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3rd Sunday of Lent

Some of the biggest  questions we have about God are found in the scripture readings at Mass today. Is God  punishing us through tragedies like earthquakes, or accidents or  acts of violence that suddenly happen. Does God care?

Those question were asked of  Jesus in today’s gospel. (Luke 13,1-9)  His listeners wonder why 18 people were killed in a recent construction accident in Jerusalem. A tower fell on them? Why did those people  die in a riot that the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, put down  by slaughtering everyone in sight?

Jesus answers that  God’s not punishing those involved in those tragedies. Tragedies are part of life; they’re sharp reminders that life on earth isn’t permanent or without risk. Jesus says  be ready for the moment that God calls you.

There’s another question, though. Does God care about it at all? And here we can turn to the 1st reading from the Old Testament about Moses and his vision of God on Mount Horeb. (Exodus 3, 1-15) Moses at the time was a man on the run. He’d killed an Egyptian and had fled from Egypt to hide as a shepherd in the Sinai desert. His people, the Jews, were slaves in Egypt.

As he ascends the mountain tending his sheep, he sees a burning bush and suddenly hears a voice. “Don’t come any nearer. Take the shoes off your feet; you’re on holy ground…I’m the God of your ancestors, of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” Moses was afraid, a normal reaction to God who is beyond anything we know.

But then God begins to speak words of love and concern.

“I know the affliction of my people in Egypt; I hear their cries of complaint against their slave drivers; I know well what they are suffering.
So I’ll rescue them from the hands of the Egyptians and lead them out of that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

“I am the God of your ancestors, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” God says. “I have ties with the world before you were born and I will care for the world when you are long gone.”

The encounter that Moses has on the mountain is our encounter with God too.

We know what followed Moses vision on Mount Horeb.  He returns to Egypt and with God’s help brings his people out of Egypt. God’s presence isn’t always obvious as they journey through the desert for 40 years. But God is faithful and he brings them to “a good and spacious land, flowing with milk and honey.”

Does God care for us. Yes, he does.

As we go further into the lenten season, we come to another mountain that’s burning with fire too. We’ll see  a Cross and a man hanging there. He knows our sorrows and shares them too. He’s God  come to us, to lead us and all the world from slavery to freedom, in a good land where sorrow and pain are no more, where we will be with our good God forever.

I’m preaching a mission at  the Sacred Heart Cathedral in Raleigh, North Carolina this week. It begins at all the Masses this weekend. Each evening at 7 I’m preaching during an hour service and at Mass 12.15 each day, Monday to Thursday. I’ll put some material from the mission on this website. Pray for the mission.

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Saturday 2nd Week

Lent 1Luke 15

Scripture Readings
The story of the prodigal son, one of the longest in the gospel, is also one of the most important. It’s not just about a boy who goes astray, of course, it’s about the human race gone wrong.

“Give me what’s mine,” the son says boldly to his father, and he takes off for a faraway country, a permissive paradise that promises power and pleasure, in fact, it promises him everything.

But they’re empty promises, and soon the boy who had so much has nothing and ends up in a pigsty feeding pigs, who eat better than he does.

Then, he takes his first step back. He “comes to himself,” our story says; he realizes what he has done. “I have sinned.”

How straightforward his reaction! Not blaming anybody else for the mess he is in: not his father, or the prostitutes he spent so much of his money on, or society that took him in. No, it’s his own fault.

He doesn’t wallow in his sin and what it’s brought him, either. He looks to the place where he belongs, to his father’s house. It wont be an easy road, but he takes it. He starts back home.

His story is our story too.

How easily we leave your side,
Lord God,
for a place far away.
Send light into our darkness,
and open our eyes to our sins.

Unless you give us new hearts and strong spirits,
we cannot make the journey home,
to your welcoming arms and the music and the dancing.

Father of mercies and giver of all gifts,
guide us home
and lead us back to you.

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St. Gabriel Possenti and Theodore Foley, CP

St. Gabriel PossentiToday is the feastday of St. Gabriel Possenti, the young Italian Passionist who died in 1862 and was canonized in 1920. I’m interested in his connection with Fr. Theodore Foley (1913-1974), an American Passionist whose cause for canonization was recently introduced in Rome. As a young boy of 14, Theodore read about  St. Gabriel and decided to become a Passionist;  other young men joined the community in the early 1920s and 30s also influenced by the young Italian saint.

What was St. Gabriel’s appeal ?

Born into a prominent family at Assisi in Italy in 1838, Gabriel Possenti was a lively, intelligent young man given all the advantages his father, an official in the papal government, could give him. Then, surprisingly, he left the bright, social world he loved so much to enter the Passionists at 18. He died in 1862 and was canonized in 1920. He was 24 years old.

Gabriel was first honored by people in the mountainous region of the Abruzzi in east central Italy and from there devotion to him spread through Italy and other parts of the world. His rise to sainthood as World War 1 ended, coincided with a decade in America known as  “The Roaring Twenties.”

The 1920s gave birth to a new consumer society, spawned by the country’s giant new industries and mass media, which chased after material goods of all kind. Young people especially, intoxicated by dreams of pleasure and success, rebelled against traditional institutions and morality. The 1920s was a “green light to an orgiastic future,” the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote. “America was going on the greatest, gaudiest spree in history.”

Catholic religious leaders in the 1920s, anxious about the young, saw Gabriel Possenti an answer to the rebellious ethos of the age.  He had flirted with a lifestyle like the “Roaring Twenties.” As a youth, glamorous parties, entertainments and dreams of success absorbed him. Then, hearing God’s call, he turned away and embraced a life without glamour or style.

In his preface to Saint Gabriel, Passionist, a popular biography by Fr. Camillus, CP published in 1926, the powerful archbishop of Boston ,William Cardinal O’Connell, denounced the “flood of putrid literature which, for the past ten years of more, has deluged the bookshelves and libraries of our great cities, fueling disappointment and emptiness in a false romanticism.” He urged young Catholics to reject this falseness and live in the real world, like St. Gabriel:

“To live a normal life dedicated to God’s glory, that is the lesson we need most in these days of spectacular posing and movie heroes. And that normal life, lived only for God, quite simply, quite undramatically, but very seriously, each little task done with a happy supernaturalism,-that such a life means sainthood, surely St. Gabriel teaches us; and it is a lesson well worth learning by all of us.”

Young Theodore Foley took Gabriel’s path. He followed the saint into the undramatic life of the Passionists.

Gabriel Possenti’s decision to enter the Passionists has always been something of a mystery, even to his biographers. Did he choose religious life because he got tired of the fast track of his day? And why didn’t he enter a religious community better known to him, like the Jesuits, who could use his considerable talents as a teacher or a scholar? Why the Passionists?

Gabriel–and Theodore Foley after him– was attracted to the Passionists because of  the mystery of the Passion of Christ. It was at the heart of God’s call.

The Passionists were founded in Italy a little more than a century before Gabriel’s death by St. Paul of the Cross, who was convinced that the world was “falling into a forgetfulness of the Passion of Jesus” and needed to be reminded of that mystery again. Paul chose the Tuscan Maremma, then the poorest part of Italy, as the place to preach this mystery, and there he established his first religious houses for those who followed him. He chose the Tuscan Maremma, not to turn his back on the world of his day, but because he found the mystery of the Passion more easily forgotten there.

When Gabriel became a Passionist, the community like others of the time, was recovering from the suppression of religious communities by Napoleon at the beginning of the century. In one sense, it had come back from the dead .  The congregation was now alive with new missionary enthusiasm. Not only were its preachers in demand in Italy, but it had begun new ventures in England (1842) and America (1852).

Paul of the Cross, the founder, was beatified in 1853. Ten years earlier, the cause of St. Vincent Strambi, a Passionist bishop, was introduced. Dominic Barbari, the founder of the congregation in England, would receive John Henry Newman into the church in 1865; the English nobleman, Ignatius Spencer, who became a Passionist in 1847, began a campaign through Europe in the cause of ecumenism. New communities of Passionist women were being formed.

Respected for their zeal and austerity, the Passionists were a growing Catholic community, and their growth in the western world continued up to the years when Theodore Foley became their superior general and then saw its sharp decline.

Success was not what drew Gabriel–and Theodore Foley after him–to the Passionists. Their charism–the mystery of the Passion of Christ– was at the heart of God’s call.

As a boy growing up, Gabriel Possenti understood this mystery, even as he danced away the evening with his school friends. Twice he fell seriously ill and, aware that he might die, promised in prayer to serve God as a religious and take life more seriously. Both times he got better and forgot his promises. Then, in the spring of 1856, the city of Spoleto where he lived at the time was hit by an epidemic of cholera, which took many lives in the city. Few families escaped the scourge. Gabriel’s oldest sister died in the plague.

Overwhelmed by the tragedy, the people of Spoleto gathered for a solemn procession through the city streets carrying the ancient image of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, who stood by the Cross. They prayed that she intercede for them and stop the plague, and they also prayed that she stand by them as they bore the heavy suffering.

It was a transforming experience for Gabriel. Mysteriously, the young man felt drawn into the presence of the Sorrowing Woman whose image was carried in procession. Passing the familiar mansions where he partied many nights and the theater and opera that entertained him so often, he realized they had no wisdom to offer now. He took his place at Mary’s side. At her urging, he resolved to enter the Passionists.

Can we speculate, then, how the life of the Italian St. Gabriel drew the young American Theodore Foley to the Passionists? What similarity was there between them? What grace led him on?

Brought up in a good family and a strong religious environment , Theodore Foley still felt  “dangers and temptations” around him. No, he didn’t experience the social life that tempted Gabriel Possenti a century before. But he did experience the new mass media then sweeping the country.  By 1922 movies, and to a lesser extent the radio, became powerful influences in people’s lives, and Hollywood’s heroes preached a new gospel of fun and success. Through the new media, the “Roaring Twenties” came to Springfield as it did to other prosperous parts of America when Theodore Foley was growing up. Did it bring the  “the dangers and temptations” he feared?

Theodore Foley must have sensed the selfishness, the carelessness about others, the failure to appreciate suffering and weakness and sin in this new gospel. It promised life without the mystery of the Cross, but that was not real life at all. Only 14, he entered the Passionists.

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Friday Thoughts: Desire Unknown

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

El Greco, “The Holy Family with Saint Mary Magdalen”, (1590-1595), detail of face of Virgin Mary

 .

You know what I desire, Lord.

An unspeakable desire.

An indescribable desire.

An unknowable desire.

I desire You.

Yet, You I can not speak of, can not describe, can not know.

Your great gift to me is my desire for You, for what I can not speak of, can not describe, can not know, can not even desire without the grace you deliver.

I desire Your desire.

I desire You.

Have Your way.

Fill me with desire for You.

Burn me with Your desire for Yourself.

Turn me inside out.

Let Christ be seen.

 

—Howard Hain

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Friday, 2nd Week of Lent

Lent 1
Readings

Rejection is a special kind of pain. Matthew’s gospel today describes the rejection Jesus experienced when he entered Jerusalem before his death. At first, he’s acclaimed by a large crowd as “the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.” They spread their cloaks and cast branches before him. “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

Then, Jesus goes into the temple and drives out those who were buying and selling there, a symbolic act that indicates he has come to restore this place of prayer. (Matthew 21, 1-18)

Reacting strongly, the Jewish leaders reject him and question his authority to do such things. He has been sent by God, Jesus says, and responds with a parable that condemns leaders like them who reject prophets sent by God.

Jesus remains convinced of his mission, but conviction does not insulate him from the pain that comes from rejection. Like the prophets before him he suffers from it, and his suffering only increases as the crowds that first acclaimed him fall silent and his own disciples deny and abandon him. All turn against him and he is alone.

The events described in today’s gospel and the parable Jesus told throws light on one suffering Jesus endured in his passion and death¬– rejection. Rejection and death will not be the last word, however: “the stone rejected by the builder will become the cornerstone.”

You went to Jerusalem, Lord,

to announce a kingdom come

a promise of God fulfilled.

a hope beyond any the mind could conceive.

Teach us to keep your dream alive

though we see it denied.

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