Monthly Archives: May 2016

Feast of Corpus Christi

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

A man I know built himself an oven and bakes bread “the old way,” he told me. He goes about the process meticulously: the flour’s carefully chosen, the right amount of water is used, the fire that bakes the bread is just the right temperature. It takes time, but what a feast results!

Bread

I mentioned to him how so many homilies on the Eucharist from the days when they baked bread “the old way” see profound spiritual mysteries in this same process. The flour represents creation itself; the water and the fire represent the work of the Holy Spirit whom we invoke in this sacrament. “The Sacraments are a privileged way in which nature is taken up by God to become a means of mediating supernatural life.”(Laudato Si 235.) Simple created realities like water, oil, bread and wine speak for all creation.

In our prayer over the bread at Mass we say: “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, for through your goodness we received the bread we offer you, fruit of the earth and work of human hands, it will become for us the bread of life.”

The bread we offer, the wine we offer are signs of creation and the human efforts involved in creation. They’re signs of everything that the “God of all creation” gives us and of everything that comes from our hands. “The word bread stands for everything,” Augustine said in one of his commentaries on the Lord’s Prayer. (Epistle to Proba) No wonder Jesus chose these two precious signs to give himself to us.

The bread and wine stand for everything. Think what that means. Scientists say that our universe came into existence about 15 billion years ago. The bread and wine stand for the 15 billion years our universe has been in existence. About 3.5 billion years ago life began on our planet. The bread and wine represent that 3.5 billion years of life on our planet. When they’re brought to the altar the whole universe is brought here. About 200,000 years ago human life emerged on our planet. 200,000 years of human life are represented in the bread and wine. Our lives are part of the human story represented in the bread and wine .

We believe that when Jesus sat down with his disciples at the Last Supper and took bread and wine into his hands he took all creation, all life, all human life into his hands.. “This is my body.” “This is my blood,” he said. He is God in human flesh giving himself to us and to everything that God made. In love poured out, he renews the covenant God makes with us and with creation.

Pope Francis in his letter “Laudato Si.” emphasizes the cosmic dimension of the Eucharist. Our created world is there with the dignity and purpose bestowed on it. As he takes bread and wine into his hands, Jesus takes the whole universe to himself. “ Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucha¬rist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world. The Eucharist joins heaven and earth; it embraces and penetrates all creation. The world which came forth from God’s hands returns to him in blessed and undivided adoration: in the bread of the Eucharist creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards the unification with the Creator himself.” (LS, 236)

We celebrate this great mystery on the “humble altar” of our church. The created universe as it was, as it is and as it will be is before us. A marvelous sacrament, so simple in appearance and so tremendous in reality.

Friday Thoughts: Running with the Lord

cezanne bather-with-outstreched-arms 1878

Paul Cezanne, “Bather With Outstretched Arms”, 1878

.

“…into your hands I commend my spirit”

and when he had said this he breathed his last.

—Luke 23:46

.


.

Years ago when I was living in San Francisco, a group of us used to go hiking out in Marin County, just across the giant red expanse of the Golden Gate Bridge. We went often. A group of both men and women, mostly single, mostly without a care in the world. I think every one of us was under thirty, or thereabouts.

My favorite part was running down. Don’t get me wrong, the hike upward was terrific too, that’s when we discussed ideas and dreams and laughed almost all the while, breaking up into smaller groups of two or three or maybe even four, and then drifting back together—like a herd of elk, for they too have not a care in the world—only to once again drift apart, this time usually paired up with a different companion or combination thereof. None of it was planned or had any real intention of course, it just happened: laughter, ideas, silence, stops, gazes outward, waiting, speeding up, sipping water, laughter, drifting apart….it was divine.

 Like the elk, it all seemed to be instinct.

But something special happened when we reached the top. After we reached the top. After we caught our breath, removed our backpacks, and viewed the scape. After we had eaten a little snack or a small sandwich, something light, usually along with an apple or granola bar, maybe even a small handful of assorted nuts and a few of those purple chips that all San Franciscans seem to love. It was time to descend.

My friends used to laugh and say that it was because I’m an Indian. They would go on and on about my “Cherokee” blood, and the fact that the first three letters of my first name spelled “how” only served as additional fodder. But there was some truth in it. Not only because I actually do have some American Indian blood, but more so because at that time I was very much a native. Primitive. Raw. Free.

That’s why I would run down.

I loved it. I would run as fast as I could go. Cutting back and forth, hopping over logs, propelling myself around turns by pivoting hard on the corner tree. I loved it. I loved the way I felt. I loved that my weight added to the speed, that what normally would slow me down, would normally make me huff and puff, now drove me forward, propelled me toward from whence I came.

It was wonderful. I was free. I was free. I was free. It was the closest this man ever came to flying.

This morning, almost twenty years later, in urban New Jersey—just across the Hudson River from Manhattan—I went for a jog. They just opened a new circular path around the old reservoir resting slightly higher than its surrounding cities of Weehawken and Union City. It is very pleasant.

I wasn’t sure how far I’d be able to make it. And after a very short distance I thought to myself, “Oh boy, I’m gonna have to stop already.” But I didn’t. I thought about posture. I thought about positioning of hands. I thought about breath. I quickly realized that the Lord has taught me much.

The posture of prayer is important. How we position ourselves is powerful. And breathing is everything.

I made it around three times. I smiled almost all the way. My pace was pretty good. I did alright, not bad for a man I thought just a few minutes before was getting old. I think even the newly-minted goslings admired my gait. And even if they didn’t, it was nice to be in a place to think that maybe they did.

I walked a lap and then began to make my way back toward my home, my one bedroom apartment that I share with my most recent and till-death-do-us-part hiking companions: my beautiful, delicately strong bride of twelve years, and my precious little girl, who at six-and-a-half runs and laughs like the wind.

I was a few streets away, coming down 18th and crossing Summit, when it happened. I never really noticed it before. The next two blocks were a steady, fairly steep decline. I began to run.

I loved it. I ran as fast as I could go. Cutting back and forth, hopping over the cracks in the sidewalks, propelling myself around the turn by pivoting hard on the corner stop sign. I loved it. I loved the way I felt. I loved that my weight added to the speed, that what normally would slow me down, would normally make me huff and puff, now drove me forward, propelled me toward from whence I came.

It was wonderful. I was free. I was free. I was free. It was the closest this man ever came to flying.

For a moment I thought I was on the outskirts of San Francisco.


.

And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit…”

—John 20:22

.

.

—Howard Hain

Trinity Sunday

 

 

DSC00528

A story’s told that St. Augustine, the great philosopher and intellectual, was walking along the seashore one day when he saw a little boy playing in the sand, taking water from the sea in a small bucket and pouring it into a hole he had dug. Back the forth the boy went.

“What are you doing?” Augustine asked, “Do you think you can put the whole sea into that little hole?”

“No,” the little boy answered, “And neither can you put God into that small mind of yours no matter how smart you think you are.”

The story reminds us that our minds are limited before the mystery of God, even the smartest, most brilliant mind. God is beyond us. The Feast of the Holy Trinity is, first of all, a reminder of our limits before the mystery of God.

And yet, this feast also says that God invites us to know him, as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. As Father, God is the creator of heaven and earth. All creation ultimately comes from God’s hand. Creation itself is God’s gift;  through the created world we come to know God.

God has also invited us to known him in Jesus Christ, who was born of Mary over two thousand years ago, who walked this earth and died on a cross, who rose from the dead and remains with us.  We have his words, his actions, his promises. He’s our Savior and Redeemer, a sign of God’s love;  he’s promised us life eternal..

The Holy Spirit also is God with us, within us, guiding us and our world to our common destiny.

Yet, though God reveals himself, we’re still like the little boy on the seashore. We’re looking at an unmeasured sea that we approach with the little buckets of our minds. We can’t grasp it all. Even the most accessible person of the Trinity, Jesus Christ, remains a mystery to us.

Remember the story of the conversion of Paul the Apostle. Saui, the unbeliever, was on his way to the City of Damascus to persecute the followers of Jesus, when suddenly a blinding light throws him from his horse. “Who are you, Lord?” Paul cries out. “I am Jesus whom you persecute, “ the voice from the blinding light says.

Jesus Christ is like the blinding light of the sun. Yes, he is human like us, but he shares in the nature of God, who is brighter than sunlight. He blinds us when we try to see him. God dwells in light inaccessible, the scriptures say, and so even though we know much about Jesus, even though the scriptures and great saints and scholars describe him, he’s still beyond anything we can know.

Like the sun, Jesus is a blinding light, and yet, paradoxically, his light shines into the darkness of creation to give life and light.  St. John says: “No one has ever seen God. The only Son, God, who is at the Father’s side, has revealed him.” (John 1,18)

As people of faith we’re not like those who say you can’t know God at all or like those who say God doesn’t exist because my mind cannot grasp him. Yes, we have to admit that we are children of the Enlightenment, that movement in our western world that says there’s no need to pay much attention to God. Pay attention to the world at hand. Pay attention to yourself. That’s what’s important.

As people of faith we know God is important. God reveals himself to us little by little. God is the most important reality we can know and love.

The Feast of the Holy Trinity is a reminder of God’s invitation to know him, to serve him in this life, to pray to him and to be with him one day where we will know him much more. It’s an invitation God extends every day, all our lives. Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
.

Friday Thoughts: Grace

Water and Wine, oil on canvas—Richard Baker (Born 1959)

“Water and Wine”, oil on canvas—Richard Baker

.

So they said to him, “What can we do to accomplish the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in the one he sent.”

—John 6:28-29

.


.

It’s all grace.

God’s mercy.

His will.

Us?

Our role?

Yes, we certainly have one.

We need to cooperate.

We need to participate.

We must partake.

And we do so thru acknowledgment.

The acknowledgment that it is all grace, God’s mercy, His will.

A mystery made flesh each and every time we acknowledge our utter dependence on Him.

And yet we are free to choose.

Free to choose not to acknowledge.

Let us then say “yes” to acknowledging Him today.

“Lord, You are real. You are the source of all. You are Kindness beyond comprehension. Your plan is perfect. I love You. Forgive me for not believing. Forgive me, Lord, for not using Your gift properly. I need Your grace to choose to acknowledge You, to not doubt You, to believe that You can and really do forgive me time and time again. I need You. I need You to love You. Come to me, please. Come, Lord, come to me—to me—Your little creation in this little part of Your little world. You are so big. I am so small. O, Good Lord, help me! Help me truly accept Your awesome gift of faith!”

Amen.

Thank You, Jesus.

.


.

“By the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity.”

—Liturgy of the Eucharist, preparation of the altar and the offerings

.

.

—Howard Hain

Pentecost

Audio homily here:

The Pew Research Center regularly reports on trends in America and in the world and recently they reported on how Americans see their place in the world. Most Americans, the report said, think that we should deal with our own problems and let other countries deal with their problems as best they can. Reports like this don’t make a judgment whether this is a good trend or a bad trend, they just tell us the facts. But the trend seems to indicate that there’s an increasing fear in us that the world in becoming unmanageable, and so we should beware of taking on too much.

Today we’re celebrating the Feast of Pentecost, the coming of the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised to send not only to his disciples but to the whole world. The Holy Spirit comes not only to us as individuals, to guide us on our way, to teach us all things, to help us to pray, but the Spirit also is sent into our world. Our temptation, unfortunately, is to see faith as just a personal thing and not affecting our whole world.

As we were preparing for this feast, I have been thinking how differently we know the Holy Spirit from the way we know Jesus and, to a certain extent, God the Father. Jesus is God come to us in human flesh, and so he has our “likeness” as St. Paul says. He’s born a child, lives as a man, reacts to events and people around him, he speaks in human words, he suffers and dies and rises. However distant the time of Jesus is from ours, we see and hear him as human like ourselves.

God the Father is also described in human terms. God is “Father”, a description we know is an analogous term. Calling God “Father” doesn’t mean that God is masculine, but the term itself offers us a human reference for God, the creator and sustainer of all things.

But the description of the Holy Spirit is more difficult to grasp, I think. What does “spirit” mean? The scriptures use symbolic ways to describe the Third Person of the Trinity. Our readings for the feast speak of the Spirit as a driving wind, tongues of fire that empowers the disciples to speak with wisdom, with new words, and to act bravely instead of fearfully.

I have been thinking lately of other symbolic ways the Spirit is described. One is a familiar symbol found in the New Testament and in art. The Spirit is a dove who rests on Jesus when he’s baptized in the Jordan by John.

There’s a bird feeder outside the monastery where I live in Queens, NY, and in the early morning before Mass I usually go out with a cup of coffee to watch the birds. Mostly house sparrows, but there’s a pair of doves who are regular visitors. Every once in awhile a hawk flies over and immediately the sparrows disappear. But the doves are the last to go and first back at the feeder. You might call them simple or dumb. But you could also say they’re fearless. They’re not afraid of the hawk.

Remember the bible story about Noah in the ark. Noah wonders if the flood waters are gone, so who does he finally send out? He sends out a dove, who returns with a twig from an olive plant. There’s life there, you can get out of the ark. The dove is not afraid of dangerous places or floodwaters. The Holy Spirit is not afraid of the chaos of our world, but recreates from the chaos.

The Spirit who appears at Jesus’ baptism as a dove also leads him into the desert, the realm of Satan. The scriptures say Jesus is hungry there, but he’s not afraid. Jesus defeats Satan in his realm.

Where are the disciples of Jesus in today’s gospel? They’re locked up in a room in fear when Jesus, risen from the dead, comes into their midst. He breathed on them. “Receive the Holy Spirit,” the Spirit whom he promised to give them. And what did they do? They left that room and went out into the world they feared, a world that the Spirit promises to recreate.

Friday Thoughts: A Bouquet of Marys

Pierre-Auguste Still Life of Roses in a Vase 1910-19 Renoir

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Still Life of Roses in a Vase”, 1910-19

.

Fount of Life
.
Fire of Love
.
Sweet Anointing From Above
.
Come Holy Spirit!
.
Come Holy Spirit, living in Mary!
.


.

A simple thought. At times that seem complex:
.
If every Mary in my life is praying for me, then all will turn out well.
.
I find that some of the most challenging times are times of serious discernment, when decisions have to be made—not made-up manufactured dilemmas, the conjectures of our overactive and self-obsessive minds endlessly playing shell games with hypothetical possibilities—but substantial concrete decisions, those times of choosing one real and reasonable path as opposed to another, equally real and equally reasonable.
.
These times can be quite unsettling, even if both paths are seemingly sunny. For if we desire to do God’s will and attempt to put aside our personal preferences, quite often the “right” choice is not crystal clear.
.
We use our minds, we use our experience, we research the facts, we reach out to trusted spiritually-solid Christian brothers and sisters for opinions and guidance, but ultimately it is not a simple matter of calculation. It is not a matter of which option has more pros and less cons, of which path offers more or less in terms of provision, obstacles, enjoyment, sacrifices, etc. Sure those things should be taken into consideration, thrown into the pot if you will, and stirred well—on low heat for that matter, and over a good amount of time.
.
But it is all about God’s will, and God’s will may defy logic, especially the logic of lists.
.
So what is left but prayer, prayer and waiting for the peace that should accompany sound, Holy Spirit-led decisions?
.
So we stir the pot, we pray, and we wait. We take a sip and see if it settles peacefully into the stomach. And we stir some more…
.
But sometimes, the time for the decision to be made comes before we feel properly prepared—or in dinner-party terms, the guests are at the front door and we feel that the soup hasn’t yet properly stewed.
.
It’s times such as these that we need our mothers.
.
I gather up my list. No, not the pros and cons, but one of the most important lists that I can assemble: the list of Marys in my life. I think about the women God has placed all about me: my earthly mother, my wife, my mother-in-law, a nun I know well, my sister-in-law, my landlady, a woman I see regularly at the bakery, several ladies from my parish who gather faithfully for Mass and to recite the Rosary.
.
These are my Marys. I gather them together: I ask our Blessed Mother, as guided by the Holy Spirit—her heavenly spouse—to unite them to her and with her in prayer. I then ask each one of them. One by one, as I see them or speak to them by phone. And I ask. I ask simply that they pray for me, that I do God’s will.
.
Then I rest assured. I sit back. I smell something delicious. But it’s not the soup. No, what my nose savors is the scent of a beautiful bouquet. My bouquet of Marys.
.
No matter what happens from here on out—I know I come out smelling like roses.

.
———
.
Hail Mary, all my Marys
.
Full of Grace
.
The Lord is with thee, all of thee
.
Blessed art thou amongst women
.
And blessed is the fruit
.
Of thy womb, Jesus!
.
O Holy Marys, pray for us sinners…now…and at the hour of our death.
.
Amen
.
———.

.
Dedicated to all the Marys in all our lives, during this “Magnificat” month of May, a month full of days filled with grace.

Happy Mother’s Day!

.

.
—Howard Hain

Like a Dove

DSC00804

The evangelists describe the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus at his baptism in the form of a dove.In his commentary on St. Luke’s Gospel, Luke Timothy Johnson seems puzzled by the description. What’s the explanation? “Such is the nature of symbols–all are possible,” Johnson writes.

Here’s mine. Two doves are regular visitors outside my window and  I notice how confident and unafraid they seem, so different from the chattering sparrows flitting from place to place. As far as I can see, the doves are without the usual signs of power, sharp talons and strong wings. What’s their secret? St. Gregory of Nyssa seems to point to their fearlessness  in his Commentary on the Song of Songs:

“When love has entirely cast out fear, and fear has been transformed into love, then the unity brought by our Savior will be realized, for all will be united with one another through their union with the supreme Good. They will possess the perfection ascribed to the dove, according to our interpretation of the text “one alone is my dove, my perfect one.”
Gregory of Nyssa

A fearless, humble love, unafraid of chaos, brings peace. Is that why Noah chose the dove to go into the world engulfed by the flood and not a lion or an eagle? Such is the nature of symbols–all explanations are possible.

Behind the Chair of St. Peter in the Vatican Basilica in Rome, the artist Bernini created the beautiful alabaster window where a steady light pours into the dark church through the image of the Holy Spirit, in the hovering form of a dove. Light is also a  favorite sign of the Holy Spirit.

Day by day, the light comes quietly through the window. Day by day, the Holy Spirit dispenses light for the moment, graces for the world that is now. As Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit dwells with us, his final gift.

The Feast of Pentecost is this Sunday.