Monthly Archives: January 2017

Morning Thoughts: Don’t Look At Me

 

caravaggio-the-denial-of-saint-peter-ca-1610-the-met

“The Denial of Saint Peter”, ca 1610, Caravaggio (Michelangelo Merisi) (Italian, Milan or Caravaggio 1571-1610 Porto Ercole) (The Met)

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Never look to a man for answers.

Look to Christ who is the answer.

If you insist on looking to a man, then choose one who points to Christ.

For the best teacher is Christ Himself…and His best assistants are those who clearly say: “Don’t look at me.”


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—Howard Hain

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http://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/437986

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Numbers

Our new president is interested in numbers. How many people were at his inauguration; how many votes did he get? Numbers indicate power and popularity.

I think Jesus’ disciples were interested in numbers too. In Mark’s gospel, which we’re reading at Mass these days, Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum before an enthusiastic crowd. At the end of his first day, the whole town gathers at the door of Peter’s house and word reaches out to other towns and places that a prophet has come. The numbers go up. (Mark 1, 21-34)

But then enthusiasm dies down as Jesus’ authority is questioned. His own hometown, Nazareth, takes a dim view of him; religious leaders from Jerusalem and the followers of Herod Antipas cast doubts about him. Gradually, Capernaum and the other towns that welcomed Jesus enthusiastically turn against him. The numbers go down.

His disciples must have wondered why. Why did people oppose him? Why are the numbers going down? It didn’t make sense.

In our reading from Mark’s gospel Jesus answers them. God‘s working in this world, the kingdom of God is coming, but human beings are mostly unaware of it.
“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.” (Mark 4, 28-34)

A greater power is at work in the scattered seed; the one casting it to the ground knows little about the way it grows. The seed takes time, with its own law of growth; a great harvest will come, but it will come in mystery.

Meanwhile, we worry about numbers. Why are a growing number of Americans–almost 25%– giving up going to church or synagogue? Why are there so few vocations to our religious communities? So many of the good things in this world seem to be diminishing.

What can we do? Treasure the seed we have, scatter it as we can, look into the signs of the times. The Kingdom of God comes.

Friday Thoughts: Stop and Go

“1010 WINS”

If you grew up in the Tri-State Region, commonly known as the greater New York City area, you know the sound of “1010 WINS”, the radio station that reaches millions living in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, especially those sitting in traffic.

“Traffic and Transit on the Ones”

Every ten minutes, “on the ones” as they say, comes the coveted traffic report, including mass transit (train and subway) updates, and of course all the action one needs to know about the “bridges and tunnels”.

What a nightmare commuting can be.

Stop and Go.

“YOU GIVE US 22 MINUTES, WE’LL GIVE YOU THE WORLD”

That’s what we hear, while sitting in our cars, or as we get prepared to sit in our cars—or perhaps board buses, trains and/or subway cars.

Twenty-two minutes, that’s all they need, and we’ve got it all: breaking international news, politics, weather, sports, culture, and of course, traffic and transit “on the ones”.

Of course those twenty-two minutes give us everything we need, except relief. Thanks to them we are now very well-informed people sitting in traffic, as opposed to complete and utter ignoramuses actively stuck behind Greyhounds.

“Top and Bottom of the Hour. The Beginning and the End.”

There’s another great news agency constancy at work in the Tri-State Area. Its broadcast begins at the top and the bottom of the hour. But there’s only one message. The news is always good. And it always leaves one relieved.

New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut are filled with parishes. Most established by the immigrants of their time. And today they march on:

The Liturgy—The Great Prayer of God’s Church—won’t be stopped.

Day in, day out.

It is always the hour.

“YOU GIVE IT 22 MINUTES, IT’LL GIVE YOU MORE THAN THE WORLD”


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: The Prayer of Milk and Honey


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Then the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a strong hand and outstretched arm, with terrifying power, with signs and wonders, and brought us to this place, and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.

—Deuteronomy 26:8-9


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Last fall we went apple picking. We were a small party, composed of immediate family. It was a beautiful crisp day, just the kind you would order for such an excursion.

On our rounds we passed an old wood wagon, behind it and off a bit in the distance lay the remains of an abandoned stone farmhouse—roofless, hollowed out, its fireplaces and chimneys still the main draw. But is was a tiny hand-painted sign on the wagon right before me that most caught my attention:

“Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water.”

I don’t know if it’s true or not, and I’m not going to spend much time investigating. I like the thought. That’s what matters. So I’m going to keep it, well not keep it, but steward it. Yes, ‘steward’ is a much better word:

Thus should one regard us: as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

(1 Corinthians 4:1)

So often an internet search can do quite the opposite. It can make us into investigators, examiners, maybe even mean-spirited inquisitors. It can turn us into lots of things, other than stewards.

Such an investigative approach also often opens the door to outright skepticism. It may even lead us into intellectual scrupulosity. And all scrupulosity, no matter its form or make up, steals joy. And that we just cannot allow.

On the other hand, we also have to be responsible. We can’t just “believe everything we hear and read”, right?

So what is one to do with such a pickle?

Well, a good steward should look to his master for advice, after all it’s his property we are called to steward on his behalf:

Now it is of course required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.

(1 Corinthians 4:2)

So there we have it. We must be stewards of God’s mysteries, and as stewards we must be found trustworthy.

Sounds straight forward enough. Tough to do though.

Perhaps this can help.

Let’s go step by step, at our Savior’s command:

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First, let us become more aware of the very mystery that is put into our care:

Our Father, who art in heaven…

Let us next adore what we do not understand:

hallowed be thy name;

Let us then accept the great gift of responsibility, handed over to each one of us daily:

thy kingdom come,

thy will be done

on earth as it is in heaven.

What happens next seems logical enough, we have to ask for help:

Give us this day our daily bread,

And with that, we address the inevitable—for even if we possess only a morsel of humility—we all know that disobedience on our part is bound to occur:

and forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive those who trespass against us;

Now, having about all we need to proceed, it’s a very good idea to remind ourselves of an eternal reality: That the master is ultimately in control and oversees us closely—rooting us on to accomplish what he wills for us to achieve, all in his very name:

and lead us not into temptation,

But just in case we fail to avoid the snares and traps hidden in plain and disordered sight—especially from falling into the false belief that the “possessions” placed into our care are actually our own—we plead with great desperation, like Saint Peter and all true disciples who think they’ve become lost, that we don’t completely sink into the waters of darkness when our faith begins to falter:

but deliver us from evil.

And together we say:

Yes. I accept. I believe. I agree.

So be it.

(or in other words:)

AMEN.

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Now, if I can only find some raw milk for breakfast…


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Look down, then, from heaven, your holy abode, and bless your people Israel and the fields you have given us, as you promised on oath to our ancestors, a land flowing with milk and honey.

—Deuteronomy 26:15


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—Howard Hain

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St. Agnes, January 21st.

Church of St. Agnes, Rome

Church of St. Agnes, Rome

Agnes, a popular Roman woman martyr of the 3rd century, ranks high among the seven women mentioned in the First Eucharistic Prayer. “Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia…” Details of her story, from 5th century sources, may be questioned, but the essential facts about her are true.

A young Roman girl of 13 or so, she was a martyr put to death for her faith, because she rejected the offer of a highly placed Roman man to become his bride. Incensed, he tried to force Agnes to change her mind; eventually she met death for continuing to refuse him.

The Golden Legend, a favorite saint book  from the Middle Ages, says that Agnes was true to her name. She was a lamb (Agnus) who followed the Good Shepherd. Though young, she followed the way to truth, never turning away from it. God gave her strength beyond what we expect for her years.

Women were expected to marry young in those days, to marry men chosen for them, and to have two or three children. They were to produce children for Rome, especially soldiers needed for the empire’s many wars.

Agnes’ refusal to marry one of Rome’s elite was a dangerous decision for that time and place. With no support from family or friends, alone in a society of men, at a time suspicious of Christians and their beliefs, the little girl sought strength in Jesus Christ.

The 5th century legends say they put her among prostitutes to break and punish her, but God warded off those who tried to rape her. Besides the church where she is buried, a church in her honor stands today in the busy Piazza Navona in Rome. where abused women often pray  and draw courage from the young girl who had a similar experience.

They finally killed her with a knife to her throat. Still, the legends say that heavenly signs constantly surrounded Agnes assuring her that her faith was not in vain. The One she loved was with her as she struggled.

Agnes, the prayer for her feast says, is an example of how God chooses “what is weak in this world to confound the strong.” A young girl was stronger than the strong. “May we follow her constancy in the faith, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever. Amen.”