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.

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Friday Thoughts: Running with the Lord

cezanne bather-with-outstreched-arms 1878

Paul Cezanne, “Bather With Outstretched Arms”, 1878

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“…into your hands I commend my spirit”

and when he had said this he breathed his last.

—Luke 23:46

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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.


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

—John 20:22

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—Howard Hain

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The Year 70

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Thanks to modern biblical studies, we know a great deal about the bible. For example, we know the approximate dates when the Letter of Peter and the Gospel of Mark– which we’re reading this week at Mass– were written. The Gospel of Mark was written around the year 70 and the Letter of Peter in the years 70-90.

The year 70 is important because the Romans destroyed Jerusalem and its temple that year and took away its treasures and many Jews who had not been massacred as slaves. By the year 81 the Emperor Domitian had the Arch of Titus built at the entrance to the Roman Forum in honor of his brother, the general who crushed the Jewish rebellion. On the arch are scenes of Titus’ army returning to Rome with the treasures of the temple and Jewish slaves. It’s a statement proclaiming Roman might and a warning to anyone who doubted it.
arch titus

A few years before 70 Peter and Paul, the leading figures of Christian expansion in the empire, were put to death and Christians suffered a fierce persecution in Rome under Nero.

Not a good time for Jewish Christians driven from their homeland or Gentile Christians embracing a new faith. Wouldn’t they have questions? Wouldn’t they have their fears?

Mark’s gospel reading for today begins “The disciples were on the way, going up to Jerusalem,and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” (Mark 10,32) Mark makes sure his readers know Jesus’ disciples “were afraid.” Like James and John, the sons of Zebedee, they expected places in a kingdom, instead they  would share in the sufferings of Jesus.

The Letter of Peter reminds its readers that “perishable things like silver and or gold,” the Roman measure for victory, count for nothing compared to the “the precious Blood of Christ” poured out for them by the “spotless unblemished Lamb.”

The time they were written puts another dimension to our readings.

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Song at Daybreak

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Does ordinary time, the days after Pentecost, mean that every day is the same? They’re not. Graces, challenges,  joys and sorrows,  hints of things, “our daily bread” are all there. We have to notice them. The Carmelite nun, Jessica Powers, ends one of her poems calling the day  “my beautiful unknown.” We just need eyes to see and ears to hear

SONG AT DAYBREAK

This morning on the way

that yawns with light across the eastern sky

and lifts its bright arms high –

It may bring hours disconsolate or gay,

I do not know, but this much I can say:

It will be unlike any other day.

 

God lives in his surprise and variation.

No leaf is matched, no star is shaped to star.

No soul is like my soul in all creation

though I may search afar.

There is something -anquish or elation-

that is peculiar to this day alone.

I rise from sleep and say: Hail to the morning!

Come down to me, my beautiful unknown.

 

Jessica Powers

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Trinity Sunday

 

 

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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.
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Friday Thoughts: Grace

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

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

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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

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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.

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“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

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—Howard Hain

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The Letter of James

James,_the_Just1We’re reading from the Letter of James for a week or so at Mass. The letter, commentators believe, was written for Jewish-Christian exiles living in a foreign land after being driven from Jerusalem. “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ, to the twelve tribes in the dispersion, greetings.”

James, a relative of Jesus, leader of the Jewish-Christian church in Jerusalem, was stoned to death in the mid 60s, as the Jewish establishment turned against the followers of Jesus and forced many of them to flee. Jerusalem itself fell into revolutionary turmoil; in 70 AD Roman armies destroyed the city and crushed the Jewish revolt.

That meant Jewish-Christian exiles were not only exiled from home, but they could never return. Some commentators believe this letter contains an original letter of James sent to support the exiles and other material later added to it.

The letter opens with words of support. It’s tough to be thrown into exile, but tough times test your faith, so be brave, your faith will become stronger. God will give you the wisdom to know what to do; keep asking for it.

If you wonder what happened to the original Jewish Christian community in Jerusalem, the letter seems to tell us.There’s some consoling words for the exiles, but not many. So much of the letter is challenging, no relaxing of standards or permission for self-pity. Keep your standards high, the letter insists and as the old song says: “When you’re down and out, lift up your head and shout: There’s gonna be a great day.”

Father Henry Free, a missionary for 40 years in the Philippines, died last Saturday and his funeral Mass was yesterday in our chapel here in Jamaica, NY. Missionaries like Henry are “voluntary exiles” who leave their own countries to bring the faith to others. We have a thriving province of Passionists in the Philippines now and a number of them have become “voluntary exiles” in places like East Jerusalem, Sweden, Vietnam, the United States and Canada. Some of Henry’s spirit passed on to them.

 

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