Monthly Archives: October 2016

31st Sunday C: Mercy Goes Everywhere

Audio homily here:

Luke’s gospel talks about God’s mercy, not in definitions but in stories. Today at Mass it’s the story of Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho. He was a wealthy man who climbed a tree to see Jesus as he was passing by through his town, and Jesus called him and stayed with him in his house on his way to Jerusalem. In many ways, his story is an interesting lesson that shows how God’s mercy works. It works everywhere. (Luke 19, 1-10)

Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector in Jericho, which means he was an agent for Herod Antipas, who ruled Galilee and Perea in Jesus’ day. Archeologists have uncovered the ruins of many of Herod’s building projects in Galilee and elsewhere, and it’s evident he built on a grand scale and built lavishly, to impress his allies the Romans.

You needed money for this kind of building, of course, and that’s where tax-collectors came in. There was no dialogue or voting on government spending then. Herod told his army of tax-collectors, “Here’s how much I need; you go out and get it. Go to the fishermen along the Sea of Galilee and the farmers around Nazareth and the shepherds in the Jordan Valley and the merchants in Jericho and get what I need; I don’t care how you get it out of them.”

And so the tax collectors went out and got the money, keeping some for themselves too. That was the way the system worked. You needed to be tough and relentless for that job, and it had to leave you hard headed and hard hearted. An unsavory profession. People thoroughly resented them. They wanted nothing to do with them.

Zacchaeus, the chief tax collector in Jericho, was the one whom Jesus called and the one he stayed with on his way to Jerusalem. God wanted to do something for him.

The only thing Jesus says in the tax collector’s house, a place into which others wouldn’t go, is: “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.” No thunderous warnings, no stern corrections. Salvation has come and they sit down for a feast. You can hear in the story echoes of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, also from Luke’s gospel.

It’s interesting to note, too, that Jesus doesn’t call Zacchaeus to follow him, as he told another tax-collector, Matthew. He doesn’t tell him to give up his job and get out of that dirty, complicated situation. No, as far as we can tell Zacchaeus was still chief tax-collector in Jericho after Jesus left, still taking orders from Herod Antipas, still part of a sinful world. But that’s where Zacchaeus will experience salvation, even there.

That might be one of the interesting lessons about God’s mercy. It works in the real world and in real life. God’s mercy works in the difficult, complicated situations that people experience in life. It’s not always easy to get away from life as it is. Yes, surely Zacchaeus was a changed man from his meeting with Jesus. God reached out to him, God came to his house, God called him to change, and he did. “Behold, I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone, I’ll return it fourfold.” He was changed by his experience of the mercy of God.

We hope we are too.

Friday Thoughts: Innocence Itself

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A small, beautiful child.

What could be more innocent?

The tiny face of one born a few days before.

What could be more pure?

At what age does that stop?

When is it that we no longer see an innocent child, but instead, just one more man or woman walking the crowded streets?

If the child is our own, probably never.

Parenthood is a gift.

A gift beyond telling.

Yet every person we shall see this day was once a child.

Every person we shall see this day is still a child.

A small, beautiful child.

What could be more innocent?

The tiny face of one born a few days before.

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Can you imagine what Saint Joseph felt?

What it was like to hold Jesus in the crook of his arm?

To present Innocence Itself to the world?

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True humility has little to do with wanting to be humble.

It has nothing to do with wanting to look small, tiny, and somewhat sad.

True humility comes through grace.

The grace of knowing that no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you on your own cannot stop innocence from being slaughtered.

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Somewhere, right now, the infant Jesus is being rejected.

Saint Joseph can hardly believe it:

Here He is. The Son of Man. Please don’t do anything, don’t say anything, don’t even think anything that offends His dignity.”

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The next time we are tempted to judge anyone perhaps we should remember that.

Perhaps we should use our imagination, our faith, our hope, our love—all the gifts and talents that come from God, that return to God, but that God Himself lends us for the time being—to find a child.

For wasn’t that very person, the one who is about to be judged, once too only a few days old?

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Think of Saint Joseph holding Innocence Itself.

Think of Saint Joseph humbly holding a tiny child, a tiny innocent child reaching out to all mankind with outstretched arms—so innocent that it’s hard to even imagine that all the world, that each and every one of us doesn’t immediately reach back with all our might to tenderly embrace this most precious gift—the most precious gift that a guilty world could receive.

Innocence Itself.


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—Howard Hain

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Mercy

I wrote this prayer after hearing Wednesday’s Gospel (Luke 13: 22-30). 

Our Lord says: ” Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I tell you will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough. After the master of the house has arisen and locked the door then will you stand outside knocking and saying, ‘ Lord open the door for us.’ He will say to you in reply, ‘ I do not know where you are from.’ ” (Luke 13:24-25)

    Beloved Lord. I kneel before Your narrow gate and pray that it not close. I know I have no right, but I beg for myself and for all those who refused to know You: the arrogant, the violent, the ones who “set their mouths against the heavens” (Ps 73), the evildoers. ” How suddenly they are devastated; utterly undone by disaster ! They are like a dream after waking, Lord, dismissed like shadows when you arise.” (Ps 73).
   I accept Your will, dear Lord, and throw myself at Your wisdom and mercy. Will the day come when You no longer know us? As we wail and grind our teeth and realize the error of our ways, will You look upon us one more time and have pity on us, and let us taste the scraps from that blessed table of Your Kingdom ?
Are You, Yourself, bleeding upon the cross, the narrow gate to our salvation? Is there a limit or an end to Your Love for those who don’t deserve it? Today I want to love You, but I kneel in the company of those ” who will be last”. Forgive me. Please forgive us.

Orlando Hernandez

Morning Thoughts: Arriving in Hope

 

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Camille Pissarro, “Entrée du village de Voisins”, 1872

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Waiting and waiting, for exactly what I’m not sure.

The sun to rise.

The day to end.

The water to boil.

Mass to begin.

The cock to crow.

Christ to return.

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A new day is here.

———

Father, thank You.

Jesus, I love You.

Holy Spirit, have Your way.


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—Howard Hain

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30th Sunday C: Be Merciful to Me a Sinner

 

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

Luke’s gospel, which we’re reading on the Sunday’s of this year, is a “gospel of prayer.” It sees prayer as central to the life of Jesus and central to our lives too.

In the gospels we’ve read the last few Sundays at Mass Jesus teaches us how to pray, but also touches on some of the difficulties we face when we pray. In last week’s gospel, the parable of the poor widow and the unjust judge, Jesus pointed to one difficulty. He tells us that we can grow tired of praying. For one reason or another, we give it up or it becomes occasional. Maybe we don’t think praying is doing any good. God isn’t listening, or we’re not good enough to speak to God.  Maybe we think we can take care of ourselves. We don’t need the help of God. For these and other reasons we can lose our appreciation of prayer; we think it’s really not necessary, and we give it up.

Jesus offers the example of the poor widow who keeps knocking at the door of the unjust judge. She looks like she doesn’t have a chance in the world getting what she wants, but she doesn’t give up, she keeps going until the unjust judge gives her what’s coming to her. In the parable Jesus is also telling us: “God is the very opposite of the unjust judge. Don’t you think God, who made you and cares for you and loves you, hears your prayers? But–and here’s what’s often behind our difficulty– his answer comes on his time and now ours.

In today’s reading, the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican praying in the temple, Jesus points to another difficulty we can experience in prayer. Prayer is meant to bring us before God, but the Pharisee in today’s gospel seems more interested in himself than in God. His prayer sounds more like an exercise in positive thinking. He’s telling us how good he feels about himself.

“I’m not like the rest of humanity,” he says, as he runs through his credits. “I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.” He’s kept all the laws a good Jew should keep. He rates himself especially high as he looks at the publican standing at a distance, not even raising his eyes to heaven. “A disgrace!” he says to himself.

Prayer isn’t talking to yourself; it’s not speculating about life; it’s not getting away from things that bother you; it’s certainly not an exercise for feeling good about yourself. Prayer is going before God, “Our Father in heaven,” God who is beyond us, yet who invites us to come like a child, his own child, to speak to him.

Jesus says the publican–a “sinner” in Jewish public opinion at the time – prays well with his simple prayer: “O God, be merciful to me a sinner.” He’s heard by God and goes from the temple justified.

There’s no long analysis of himself and his sins in the publican’s prayer. He’s more intent on throwing himself on the mercy of God. Humble before God, God raises him up.

That’s what prayer is, humbly approaching God. Like Moses on Sinai, we take off our shoes before God who is all holy, but not distance. He is merciful, a God welcomes us and speaks what he wants in simple words we can understand, and gives us gifts we can’t measure.

Listen again to the words from our first reading:

The LORD is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.”

 

The Lord hears the cry of the poor.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Thoughts: Tobias and the Angel

 

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Thomas Wilmer Dewing, “Tobias and the Angel”, 1887 (The Met)

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Since my daughter’s earliest days, we have played this little game:

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I look at her and say, “Sometimes you love someone so much...”

And she softly responds, “…it makes you cry.”

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We both get glassy eyed and gently smile.

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Love

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What is it?

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“It” is a person

His name is Jesus

His skin is many colors

He is 33 years old, and also 7, and also 84, and also 40…

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He is God. He is alive. He lives in you and me.

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Tell Him that you love Him.

It is Jesus.

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Sometimes you love someone so much…it makes you cry.”

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—Howard Hain

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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/10749

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St. Paul of the Cross

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Today, October 20th, we celebrate the feast of  St. Paul of the Cross in the United States. A saint leaves a legacy, a blessing for the church and especially for members of communities he founded or inspired. What legacy did the saintly founder of the Passionists leave?

Paul of the Cross died October 18, 1775, a year before our American Revolution and fourteen years before the French Revolution. Twenty three years after his death, the French revolution spilled over into neighboring Italy and the Papal States. Napoleon imprisoned the pope, Pope Pius VI, religious houses and church resources were taken over by French forces; the Catholic Church in Italy, like the Catholic Church in France, was seemingly crushed by the French general and his powerful army.

In May of 1810 the situation got worse. Napoleon declared an end to the Papal States and ordered the new pope Pius VII to be imprisoned in Savona, Italy. His police led thousands of religious from their religious houses back to their homes and told to start another life. Among them were 242 Passionists, the community Paul of the Cross founded in the previous century.

The old church was dead, the emperor said. He would replace it by a new one of his own. In that thinking, the Passionists too were dead; they would hardly have a role in Napoleon’s church. Of course, the church didn’t die and neither did the Passionists.

Historians usually credit the brilliant diplomacy of Cardinal Consalvi, the pope’s secretary of state, for keeping the church alive and getting it on its feet again after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814. But diplomats weren’t the only people responsible for the church’s restoration. Most of the credit belonged to ordinary believers who kept the faith and remained loyal.

The same was true for the Passionists. We certainly gave the church an inspirational figure at the time, St. Vincent Strambi, the Passionist bishop and first biographer of Paul of the Cross. Before Napoleon’s troops invaded Rome in 1798 Pius VI asked Vincent to preach in the city’s four major basilicas to strengthen the Roman people. After Napoleon’s defeat, Pius VII called Strambi to Rome again to preach a 9 day retreat of reconciliation–not everybody stood up to the French invaders.

But besides Strambi, what kept the Passionists alive were certainly those ordinary religious who were driven from their monasteries and came back to continue the work that St. Paul of the Cross envisioned a century before. They were the faithful ones, faithful to what they learned from him.

Paul of the Cross not only preached the mystery of the Passion of Jesus; he lived it. He held on to his dreams through hard times. Humanly speaking, the Passionists, the community he founded, should have gone out of existence many times, from its tenuous beginnings to the years it waited for acceptance by the church. The mystery of the Cross was present in its birth, its growth and its life.

Now as then, the Passion of Jesus brings life, not death.