Monthly Archives: June 2016

Saint Irenaeus

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Many years ago I took a course on Gnosticism in Rome under Fr. Antonio Orbe, SJ, an expert on the subject. Gnosticism, an early heresy that threatened Christianity in the 2nd century eventually waned as a movement and most of its writings were destroyed. Until a large cache of gnostic writings buried in the sands of Egypt was discovered about the time when I was studying under Fr. Orbe, most of what was known about the gnostics came from the writings of St. Irenaeus, an opponent of gnosticism we honor today in our liturgy,

Fr. Orbe was just back from Egypt and busy deciphering the new trove of gnostic writings. I remember an observation he made about St.Irenaeus. He said that, as he compared the writings, he was struck by how accurately and fairly Irenaeus reported what the gnostics taught, not distorting anything they said or omitting their ideas. He was very fair and respectful. From what we know of Irenaeus, that’s what he was, fair minded and respectful to friend and foe alike. He was a peace-maker.

Not a bad example for today when hot words and smear attacks, distortions and lies dominate so much communication. Irenaeus was a peace-maker. Peace makers don’t destroy, they heal and unite. That’s why they’re called blessed.

Irenaeus also had a deep respect for creation. Some scholars today say the ancient gnostics were broadminded, creative people–rather like themselves–  more progressive than the plodding, conservative people of the “great church”– a term Irenaeus used to call it.

In fact, the gnostics made the world smaller than it is, because they made much of the world evil, only some of it meant anything at all. Forget about the rest of it.

All creation is God’s, Irenaeus replied. “With God, there is nothing without purpose, nothing without its meaning or reason.” All creation is charged with the glory of God.

Irenaeus pointed to the Eucharist as a sign of this. Bread and wine represent all creation. God comes to us through these earthly signs. We go to God through them.

“God keeps calling us to what is primary by what is secondary, that is, through things of time to things of eternity, through things of the flesh to things of the spirit, through earthly things to heavenly things.”

Moses struck the rock and water comes out. People drank and were refreshed, but something more happened–they knew through the water, though dimly, the generous God who slaked their thirst.

We should not demean creation, Ireneaus taught. That’s also the message of Pope Francis in “Laudato si.”

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The Quality of Mercy

We’re reading from the Prophet Amos all this week at Mass. His message is “one of unrelieved gloom,” one commentator says, as he speaks  to the prosperous world of his day, especially 8th century Israel, the northern kingdom.

God doesn’t like anything about it: “I hate, I spurn your feasts…I take no pleasure in your solemnities…Away with your noisy songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps.”

God can’t stand the songs they’re singing, the music they’re playing, their beautiful liturgies, because they show no justice towards the poor. So destruction awaits them.

But wait! This Saturday we’ll hear God turning in mercy to his people in one of Amos’ most beautiful passages:

“On that day I will raise up
the fallen hut of David;
I will wall up its breaches,
raise up its ruins,
and rebuild it as in the days of old…
Yes, days are coming,
says the LORD,
When the plowman shall overtake the reaper,
and the vintager, him who sows the seed;
The juice of grapes shall drip down the mountains,
and all the hills shall run with it.
I will bring about the restoration of my people Israel;
they shall rebuild and inhabit their ruined cities,
Plant vineyards and drink the wine,
set out gardens and eat the fruits.
I will plant them upon their own ground;
never again shall they be plucked
From the land I have given them,
say I, the LORD, your God.”  (Amos 9,11-15)

There’s a definition of mercy in the prophet’s words. In mercy God comes down to humanity at its worst, in its sham, its blindness, its evil, and raises it up again. Mercy does not depend on merit. It’s God loving us in spite of ourselves.

We see mercy best as it’s exemplified in the Passion of Jesus. In spite of hypocrisy and injustice, God offers his love to heedless humanity and the promise of a kingdom.

Have mercy on us, O Lord.

 

 

 

 

 

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13th Sunday C: On the Journey

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

We’re reading the Gospel of Luke the Sundays of this year. At the beginning of his gospel, St.Luke promises to put down in an orderly way the events that have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ. As we listen to his account he wants us to realize that what we hear Jesus say to his disciples and to others he says to us. When we hear what happens to Jesus we are also hearing what happens to us.

In the 9th chapter of his gospel, part of which we read this Sunday, Luke describes a crucial turning point in the life of Jesus. After teaching and healing and performing wonders for a time in Galilee, Jesus asks his disciples, “Who do people say I am?” Then, he asks them, “Who do you say I am?” Of course, Luke wants us to face that same question too. “Who do we say Jesus is?”

Jesus then announces he must go up to Jerusalem. Listen to the way Luke describes his decision “When the days for Jesus’ being taken up were fulfilled, he resolutely determined to journey to Jerusalem, and he sent messengers ahead of him.” This is a journey when the days for Jesus being taken up were fulfilled. In other words, this is a journey when Jesus will pass from this world to his Father. He is journeying to Jerusalem to suffer and die and rise again. He will be “taken up.”

And he doesn’t make this journey alone. At this point in the gospel, Jesus calls his disciples to follow him, Luke says, but the evangelist wants us know that he’s calling everybody to follow him, not just a designated few. Greater than Elijah, Jesus gives his mantle to many followers who’ll share his journey and they’re taken up with him to share his reward, and he sends messengers ahead of him to gather as many as they can.

There’s a simple criteria Jesus gives for following him. “Take up your cross daily and follow me,” he says in Luke’s gospel. It’s an everyday cross he wants us to take up, not the cross of wood that he himself bore; it’s not nails in our hands and feet or scourges on our back that we’re asked to bear. It’s the everyday cross that we carry all the time, wherever we are. It’s the cross we carry on our journey of life, all our life. Sometimes it comes from ourselves, from sickness, or old age, or disappointments, or worry, or the constant pressures of living everyday. Sometimes it comes from the world we live in with its violence and uncertainties. It’s always there and Jesus tells us to carry it.

In today’s gospel the Lord says something more about following him; some of what he says we may find hard to understand. For example, what does he say to the man who wants to bury his father before following him? “Let the dead bury their dead.” What does he say to the one who wants to say goodbye to his family first? “ “No one who sets a hand to the plow and looks to what’s left behind is fit for the kingdom of heaven.” Sounds hard and unreasonable, doesn’t it?

Hard and unreasonable, until we see how important it is to follow Jesus. If life is a journey, and it is, where are we going? Do we think this is all there is? If life is a journey, do we make it alone? If life is a journey, does it stop at death? If it doesn’t stop at death, who will take us beyond it? If life is a journey from this world to another world, who will be with us all days to bring us to that world?

We can see how important it is to follow Jesus Christ?

Some, of course, think he makes no difference. They can go it alone. Some think Christ is just a “back-up,” when you need him he’ll be there. Some think he brings power and success for living here and now. But look at what he says in today’s gospel: “Foxes have dens and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to rest his head.” Jesus doesn’t assure us of a nice house or a good living. In today’s gospel, too, his disciples want to set fire on the Samaritans who refuse them hospitality, but Jesus turns his back on them.

For the next four months our Sunday gospels are mostly from the journey narrative of Luke. We will be hearing what Jesus says to those he meets on the journey. Let’s listen as if he’s speaking to us. On the way to Jerusalem Jesus calls followers. None of them are perfect, by any means. In Luke’s narrative it’s the lost sheep, the prodigal children, the forgotten poor, a blind man on the road, a crooked tax collector who follow him. He calls us too. Let’s listen to him.

We’ll hear warnings in the weeks ahead which we should take to heart. “You are a fool,” God says to the man who thinks only about building bigger barns. Let’s listen to him. We’ll hear about stopping and helping others, as the Good Samaritan did. Let’s listen to him.

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Friday Thoughts: You Dirty Rat

The Boyarina Morozova, Vasilij Surikov, 1887, detail 2

Vasilij Surikov, “The Boyarynya Morozova”, 1887 (detail)

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I am starving to death by not preaching. I search the garbage bins and pick out of dumpsters, ever eying with hungry eyes trash thrown by the wayside.

I am so wonderfully fed by Christ!

Yet I thirst a thirst of love. I long for more painful encounters that heal me so. I am a lover of the beach who roams the Sahara. Below the height of the mounting sun, among the singing dunes, I bellow with them the universal hum.

The sand is all about me. An oasis resides within my heart. I am surrounded by mirages of men whom long ago have forgotten to start.

I starve to preach. To sing of our Lord. I starve to fly high with no might of my own. Tapping toes and rocking forth, slightly bending knees, ready to spring forth from well to well.

I love our God. I love Him so. I love Him and Him alone. He tells me to love others as myself. I love Him despite myself. I love Him in others, and others because of Him. I love for I have been brought low. I love for I have learned to soar high. He is my all. My everything. Of Him, and Him alone, do I sing.

I sing of socks, and of sneakers, of old clothes and new sandals, and of wedding rings. I sing of mice, and of men, I sing of the difference that resides only in the length of whiskers. I sing of dogs and of cats, and o yes, of rats—o those ugly creatures that challenge me so.

I ask myself, are they not created by God as well?

Isn’t that dirty filthy stinkin’ rat also beautiful and also real?

Does not God shine the sun and shower the rain on disturbing rats as well?

O, if I could only love rates, then I would truly sing! Mend this heart, this rock of mine, hardened by selfish sight and by wanting what isn’t mine. Yes, boil me down, so I may drown in what the residue of life leaves to those who truly suffer.

I sing to you, O Glorious Rat. Creature of God!

I sing to you that you too shall sing with me. I see that I no longer need to sing alone. Come, accept my embrace. I forgive you. Now perhaps I too may be forgiven.

I see and smell and hear the truth. You the rat, object of everyone’s scorn. You too were once so young, before you crawled into the bin, before you journeyed down the darkened tunnel—you too—little infant rat—were brought forth from the mother’s womb.

Come young, come old! Come from your abandoned buildings, and vacant storage yards, from old ball fields well over grown. Come one, come all!

The pious pied piper now plays a gospel tune. The garbage begins to gather, the desolation takes on an evening glow. The sand all about me recedes from the stormy cloud. It slowly begins to lay low.

The desert creeps up upon a vast body of water.

I pass between walls of a held back sea, my feet tread cross a red clay bottom.

You too, brother rat, are a gift from our mighty God above. You too were loved into existence by the Lord of all.

God of all who share residence upon the earth.

God of all who sigh and sing.

God of all who snort and smile.

God of all who bellow and breathe, both fresh and soiled city air alike.

Come, then, last call, leave your dens, leave your hobbies, leave you daily work behind. Leave you rats, friends of mine, leave the muck and sewers of this world, climb the hills, and charge the mountain, dip yourselves in Carmel air, for even you reflect the glory of Zion from a peak so high.

Come and join the birds who listened so intently, who still this day patiently hear lonely troubadours sing. Yes, join us, for there is always plenty of room, room for even you, object of everyone’s scorn.

Enough for even you, you dirty rat.

A sight for sore eyes to this poor lonely thirsty preacher.

For through you I give our magnificent God mighty humble joy-felt praise.

———

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—Howard Hain

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Daily Reading, Daily Bread

Reading the scriptures daily and on Sundays in the lectionary is one of the great reforms begun by the Catholic Church after the Second Vatican Council. It’s part of the church’s effort to seek renewal through the Word of God. But it’s going to take us awhile to get used to it.

For one thing, reflection on the daily and Sunday readings is a new way to reflect on our faith.  The scriptures are old and we live in a new world.  Pope Benedict, describing his own search for “the face of God” in scripture said you have to “trust” you will find it there.

We have to trust we will find God and enter God’s presence as we take up this daily discipline. “If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” God promises to speak today. The daily scriptures are daily bread, and they offer a varied diet. We go from Matthew, preoccupied with the tensions of his church with Pharisaic Judaism,  to Luke preoccupied with an outreach to the gentiles, to the other New Testament writings, each with its own purpose.

Then there are the varied readings from the Old Testament. They can be hard to understand, but the church wisely keeps them side by side with the New Testament. They hold a treasure all their own. We need to understand them better.

We need help to appreciate this daily bread, this varied diet served up. We need people like those people on the cooking shows on television who not only  tell you what to eat but make those strange dishes appetizing and appealing. We need good homilists and good catechists.

We need a “lamp, shining in a dark place.”

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An Immense Sea

View_of_Cliffs_of_Moher

I wonder if St. Gregory of Nyssa ever stood at a place like this. He must have:

“The feelings that come as one stands on a high mountain peak and looks down onto some immense sea are the same feelings that come to me when I look out from the high mountain peak of the Lord’s words into the incomprehensible depths of his thoughts.

“When you look at mountains that stand next to the sea, you will often find that they seem to have been cut in half, so that on the side nearest the sea there is a sheer drop and something dropped from the summit will fall straight into the depths. Someone who looks down from such a peak will become dizzy, and so too I become dizzy when I look down from the high peak of these words of the Lord: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“These words offer the sight of God to those whose hearts have been purified and purged. But look: St John says No-one has seen God. The Apostle Paul’s sublime mind goes further still: What no man has seen and no man can see. This is the slippery and crumbling rock that seems to give the mind no support in the heights. Even the teaching of Moses declared God to be a rock that was so inaccessible that our minds could not even approach it: No-one can see the Lord and live.
“To see God is to have eternal life – and yet the pillars of our faith, John and Paul and Moses, say that God cannot be seen. Can you understand the dizziness of a soul that contemplates their words? If God is life, whoever does not see God does not see life. If the prophets and the Apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, attest that God cannot be seen, does this not wreck all the hopes of man?
 “It is the Lord who sustains our floundering hope, just as he sustained Peter when he was floundering in the water, and made the waters firm beneath his feet. If the hand of the Word stretches out to us as well, and sets us firm in a new understanding when these speculations have made us lose our balance, we shall be safe from fear, held safe in the guiding hand of the Word. Blessed, he says, are those who possess a pure heart, for they shall see God.”

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12 Sunday C: The Everyday Cross

 

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

Three gospels, Mark, Matthew and Luke, are called the synoptic gospels because they seem to “see” the story of Jesus in the same way. They were written some years apart. Scholars say Mark is the earliest, written around the year 70 AD. Matthew perhaps around the year 80 AD, and Luke between 80 and 90 AD.

All three recall the same story, but each introduces changes and additions of their own to teach the communities they’re writing for. We may hardly notice the differences, but they’re there.

For example, today’s gospel from Luke recalls an important incident that’s found in all three gospels. After ministering and teaching in Galilee for a time, Jesus announces he is going up to Jerusalem to suffer, die and rise again.

In all three gospels, Jesus asks his disciples “Who do people say I am?” Their answers are pretty much the same: ‘John the Baptist’ others ‘Elijah’ still others, ‘One of the ancient prophets has arisen.’”

Jesus then asks his disciples, “Who do you say I am?” All three gospels report Peter’s response: “You are the Messiah.”

Then, Jesus announces he is going up to Jerusalem and he tells his disciples to follow him. The three synoptic gospels agree on the basics of this crucial incident in the story of Jesus.

But notice in Luke’s gospel two interesting variations in Jesus’ call to follow him. “Jesus then said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it. “”

Jesus speaks to “all,” not just to a few disciples, Luke says. He invites all, not just the chosen twelve, or the Jewish people, or Jewish-Christians to follow him. Luke’s gospel insists that Jesus reaches out to everyone. All are invited to follow him and all, not a designated few, have to take of their cross.

Notice, too, the subtle change Luke makes in Jesus’ call to take up our cross. It’s a “daily” cross we are to take up. “If you want to come after me, you must deny yourself and take up your cross daily and follow me.” It’s an everyday cross, not the cross of wood that Jesus bore; it’s not nails in our hands and feet or scourges on our back that we’re asked to bear.

What’s an everyday cross, we may ask? Open your arms wide and what do you see? We’re formed like a cross. That’s what we carry everyday–ourselves. Maybe it’s sickness or disappointment or weariness or worry about something or someone. Maybe it’s putting up with a world that wont change or dreams that wont come true.

The cross we take up is there, everyday, in ourselves and the world we live in, and our patience wears out bearing it.

“Take up your cross daily and follow me,” Jesus says in Luke’s gospel. By adding one word, the evangelist makes clearer what Jesus would say.

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