Monthly Archives: April 2016

6th Sunday of Easter C: Better than Now

 

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

I’ve been riding the subway in New York City for years and I’ve noticed a lot of changes over time. Of course it’s still not polite to look at people. Eye-contact or striking up a conversation aren’t done on the subway. It’s better to close your eyes during the ride, if you can, but also still remember to hold on tight to any bags you have with you. Until recently people would have a newspaper or a book to read; sometimes you could even see someone saying the rosary or reading a prayerbook.

But that’s all gone now, hardly any newspapers or books. Now a lot of people are checking out their messages or playing games or listening to music on their smart phones. The digital world has taken over. People seem locked into the fast moving electronic worlds of Facebook and Twitter and Instagram. That’s not just in the subway, of course. It’s above ground too. More and more people are locked into the world of electronic bites.

The new media always wants something new, as long as it’s faster than what was before. One of the newest programs out there, I understand, is designed to keep you abreast of the world of the here and now exclusively. It will tell you about the latest murder, what Donald Trump just said, who just died, did the Mets just win, and it all disappears in 24 hours. All gone. The past gets in the way of what’s happening now. Don’t get distracted by the past. Now is what counts. What’s now is the only important thing.

Of course, if you’re just interested in the news now you may miss the Good News. The gospel we just read doesn’t seem to fit in the new media. That’s because it sees the most important thing in life as what’s happening now.

I was talking to a Jewish friend of mine the other day and he’s going to the synagogue these days to lead the prayers because his father died around this time, over 50 years ago. He was only a little boy when his father died, but he has wonderful memories of him and the prayers seem to keep those memories fresh. He told me he wished young people would put their iPads and iPhones down and take in life that’s around them. Pope Francis said the same thing in Rome the other day.

I can understand why people take their electronic devices into the subway. It’s a confined world down there where you sit or stand with a lot of people you may not know. But I wonder if something else could lift us up down there.
Suppose we thought about the words that Jesus says in today’s gospel. “Whoever loves me will keep my word,
and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him.” Can you imagine that: God would come and dwell with me? The God who made heaven and earth and everyone one of the people I’m sitting across from. God is here with us all.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid.” What a wonderful gift that is! The Lord gives us peace. He tells us not to be troubled or afraid. He’s with us, even there in subway. He’s with all of us. We think we’re strangers, but we’re all his children in his hands.

Those are good thoughts to think about anywhere, anytime, aren’t they? They’re Good News. They lift up life as it is, that we’re living now. We need to hear them now.

Friday Thoughts: Tiny Rose

—Howard Hain
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Catherine of Siena, (1347-80)

St. Catherine if Siena is a doctor of the church and Italy’s patron saint along with St. Francis.

As the 24th child in a family of 25 children, Catherine of Siena was a saintly teacher and church reformer.  As a young girl, she clashed with her father, who worked dying wool, and her mother, a hardy determined housewife, after she told them she wasn’t going to get married, but was giving herself totally to God.

She cut her hair and began to fast and pray.  She joined a group of women who helped the poor in Siena, mostly widows associated with the Dominican order. They  were suspicious of the pious young girl who kept to herself and was at odds with her mother and father.

At 21 years old, Catherine was led to go beyond the mission of the women’s group and reach out further to the church and society.  Men and women, priests and laypeople, from Siena and its surroundings gathered around her. They cared for the poor– famine struck Siena in 1370 and a plague in 1374– but also they sought to reform the church and the society of their day.

At the time, Italian cities like Siena, Florence, Pisa and Padua were fighting among themselves as rival families clashed continuously over political power and economic advantages. In 1309 the popes fled the violence and factional riots in Rome for the safety of Avignon in France, where the papacy remained for almost 70 years. They call it “the Babylonian Captivity.”

Catherine and her companions pleaded with the feuding Italian cities for peace and urged the popes to return to Rome to exercise their mission as bishops of the city where Peter and Paul once led the Christian church. Catherine cajoled, warned and scolded the absent popes to do their duty as shepherds of their sheep and get back to where they belonged.

Without any formal education, Catherine learned to read and write only later in life, which made her an unlikely public figure. She was also a woman teaching and preaching– unusual for that day : “Being a woman, I need not tell you, puts many obstacles in my way. The world has no use for women in a work such as that and propriety forbids a woman to mix so freely with men.” (Letter) Despite those obstacles, Catherine traveled to the warring cities of Italy urging peace and to Avignon to plead with the pope.

Catherine had a deep experience of God in prayer, as the “Dialogue,” her mystical exchange with God, attests. God spoke with her and she shared those words, drawing others to respond and join her in her mission of peace-making and reform.

Jesus was her “Gentle Truth,” her guide and strength. “This is a sign that you trust in me and not in yourself: that you have no cowardly fear. Those who trust in themselves are afraid of their own shadow; they think heaven and earth are letting  them down. Fear and a twisted trust in their own small wisdom makes them pitifully concerned about getting and holding on to everything on earth and throwing away everything spiritual…The only ones afraid are those who think they are alone…They are afraid of every little thing because they are alone–without me.” (Dialogue)

As a lay-woman in the church, she was not afraid to speak to power, once correcting a bishop for “ordaining little boys instead of mature men… idiots who can scarcely read and say the prayers.  They consider it beneath them to visit the poor, they stand by and let people die of hunger.”

Tell the truth, God told her. Tell the truth because love impels you. “You must love others with the same love with which I love you. But you cannot repay my love. Love other people, loving them without being loved by them. Love them without concern for spiritual and material gain, but only for the glory of my name, because I love them.” ( Dialogue )  Loving God inevitably means loving others.

She died in Rome in 1378 and is buried there in the Dominican church of Santa Maria sopra Minerva. Her heart is in Siena.

The Vine

I visited  Laurita Winery in New Egypt, New Jersey, some years ago. Some of us wanted to see how wine was made.  Ray Shea, one of the owners, and Nicholaas Opdam, the Oenologist or Vineyard Manager, gave us a tour.

“ I am the vine, you are the branches” Jesus says in today’s  gospel. He saw  the vineyard as an image of the play between  heaven and earth. Growing grapes is as challenging as sowing seed, which can fall by the wayside, or on hard ground, or among thorns, and the birds of the air can eat it up.

Vines are similar. At the very least, the vine needs pruning. But there’s more.They depend on the right climate, they need the right amount of water, the soil in which they’re planted needs feeding and watchful adjusting. Blackbirds can swoop down on the ripening grapes. Better than protecting nets is a circling red-tailed hawk, the vineyard keepers say.

“We need good weather and other things beyond our control,” they told us.  Twice a year the vineyard is blessed, in the cold of January and during the harvest in October.

They’re using the latest technology and the wisdom of wine-makers from all over the world at this vineyard. Solar panels circling the fields harvest the energy of the sun and a man made lake collects vital water. Yet it’s no sure thing. It’s a risky business.

“I am the vine; you are the branches.” I must admit, I hardly thought of the patience, the risk, the dimensions behind this image, which is so richly incarnational.  A loaf of bread or a bottle of wine came to the table from nowhere, I thought.

Not so.

At the Eucharist, bread and wine just come to the table, from nowhere. Not so.

My Peace I Leave You

The gospel readings for the remainder of the Easter season are from the Farewell Discourse of Jesus from John’s gospel. (Chapters 13-17) At Passover, Jesus’ hour arrives when “he had to pass from this world to his Father.” (John 13,1) The mystery of his death and resurrection is here.

At his announcement, uncertainty and questions disturb his disciples. They’ve known and loved him intimately; now he tells them he’s leaving, for awhile, and they will no longer see him, for awhile. They seem to hear only the word “death.” During the farewell discourse, the disciples, like Mary Magdalene in the garden, try to cling to him. “Do not cling to me. I have not ascended to my father and your father, to my God and your God.”

They’ll be living in the “in-between-time.” They wont see him again as they’ve known him physically; nor will they see him in glory, unless it’s the glory reflected from his cross. Jesus promises not to leave them orphans, but he won’t be with them as he was with them before in the flesh. He will be with them as God is with them.

The “in-between-time” is the time of the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, who will teach them all things. Jesus too will be present, but in sacramental signs and words and deeds they remember.

The “in-between-time” is our time too. Like the disciples, we want to see, to touch, to know more, to have what’s promised us fulfilled. But this is the “in-between-time.”

In today’s gospel, Jesus promises his disciples the gift of peace. He calls it his peace, a particular kind of peace, a believer’s peace, peace for the “in-between-time” when we don’t see yet and the mystery of the cross only hints at glory.

Jesus’ words appear in the prayer we hear before Communion at Mass. “Lord Jesus Christ, you said to your apostles, ‘Peace I leave you, my peace I give you.’ Look not on our sins, but on the faith of your church, and grant her peace and unity in accordance with your will. “

We sin against this peace by cynicism, lack of patience, weak faith– sins of the “in-between-time.” We wish this peace to each other; we pray that God grant us this peace as we receive the Eucharist.

Fifth Week of the Easter Season

Monday Acts 14, 5-18
John 14, 21-26
Tuesday Acts 14, 19-28
John 14, 27-31
Wednesday Acts 15, 1-6
John 15, 1-8
Thursday Acts 15, 7-21
John 15, 9-11
Friday Acts 15, 22-31
John 15, 12-17
Saturday Acts 16,1-10
John 15, 18-21

Through the Easter season until the Feast of Pentecost our first reading at Mass on ordinary days is from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. The lesson we learn from Acts is that the Risen Jesus creates and guides his church through time through the ministry of his followers.

From chapter 13 onward Luke concentrates on the missionary activity of Paul the Apostle and those associated with him. A sharpened Jewish reaction to Paul’s preaching develops at this time, as well as a greater acceptance of his message by the gentiles.

Paul’s experience is that “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the Kingdom of God.” (Tuesday) The church must take the same path its Lord took.

At the same time, church order– how the church functions– has to be looked after. “They appointed presbyters for them in each Church and, with prayer and fasting, commended them to the Lord in whom they had put their faith.” (Tuesday)

“No little dissension and debate” goes on in the church of any age. (Wednesday) We need to go back to Jerusalem to get our bearings. The church is always bigger than some of its members may think. (Thursday and Friday) No matter what, the Spirit guides the church. (Saturday)

At the Last Supper–the gospel from John is read this week– Jesus promises his disciples peace. (Tuesday) He is the vine, we are the branches. (Wednesday) “Remain in my love,” he says. We are his friends (Friday) and if his friends then we have to follow the path he did. (Saturday)

5th Sunday of Easter: Bless them All

Audio homily here:

When we read the Acts of the Apostles in the easter season, we see another form of church. The church of Paul and Barnabas is certainly different in structure from the church we know today.

There were no parishes or dioceses then. In Rome, if you asked where the Vatican was, they’d point you to a race course on a hill on the fringe of the city where the emperor had his private games. There were no monasteries or religious communities or other Christian institutions.

When Paul and Barnabas went to different places, they went to the Jewish synagogues where they spoke about Jesus as the Messiah. The reaction to their message was mixed, at best. At times they were violently rejected, but some Jews and some “God-fearing gentiles” – non-Jews who appreciated Judaism and its spirituality– accepted their message about Jesus and his promise of salvation.

The synagogue was the normal “catechumenate” where early Christian missionaries like Paul and Barnabas found converts to the faith. No synagogues, as far as we know, became Christian churches.

Where, then, did new believers go? They gathered in the houses of other believers, in “house churches”, usually bigger houses belonging to merchants. The owners and their families lived in these houses, but they also conducted their business in part of the house. Their servants and slaves would live and work there too.

In his Letter to the Romans Paul sends his greeting to Prisca and Aquila and the “church in their house.” They were husband and wife, a couple of merchants who ran a leather business in Corinth. Paul lived with them for almost two years; he worked and taught in their house. After that, he lived in their house in Ephesus and founded the church in that city. He calls them “ my co-workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life. I am grateful to them but also all the churches of the gentiles.”

In Rome there were no churches as we know them till the 4th century, but historians count 25 house churches where  Christians met in the early centuries in that city.

Our church structure developed since then, we can see  a development in our first reading today. Paul is appointing leaders in every church. But there’s something important this early time can teach us. At the end of his Letter to the Romans, after expounding on some of his most profound teachings, Paul remembers a number of people in Rome he wants to greet. Prisca and Aquila and all the church in their house are the first; they must have moved back to Rome.  Then there are  a number of other names that seem to come spontaneously to his mind. They’re the names of ordinary Christians, not just the owners of the houses where Christians meet and their families, but the servants, the slaves, the ordinary people whom Paul lived with and worked with and prayed with side by side.

Unfortunately, this section of his letter is never read in church. It should be; it breathes with affection and appreciation and love for all the people who are the body of Christ. Listen to it.

Greet Prisca and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus,
who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I am grateful but also all the churches of the Gentiles; greet also the church at their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the firstfruits in Asia for Christ.
Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.
Greet Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen and my fellow prisoners; they are prominent among the apostles and they were in Christ before me.
Greet Ampliatus, my beloved in the Lord.
Greet Urbanus, our co-worker in Christ, and my beloved Stachys.
Greet Apelles, who is approved in Christ. Greet those who belong to the family of Aristobulus.
Greet my kinsman Herodion. Greet those in the Lord who belong to the family of Narcissus.
Greet those workers in the Lord, Tryphaena and Tryphosa. Greet the beloved Persis, who has worked hard in the Lord.
Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother and mine.
Greet Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, and the brothers who are with them.
Greet Philologus, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas, and all the holy ones who are with them.
Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you. ( Romans 3,3-16)

Paul doesn’t want to leave anybody out. You can hear his love for them all. That’s the love Jesus had for his disciples. “Love one another, as I have loved you.” That’s the love that should be in our church, no matter what its structure is.