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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The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Acquinas

On this feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, instead of a display of the saint’s own wisdom, we’re presented in the Office of Readings with the wisdom of Christ found in the mystery of his cross. That’s as Aquinas would have it, I’m sure.

The reading is from one of Aquinas’ sermons, not from his voluminous theological tracts, and it’s about the great question “Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us?”

The passion of Jesus was necessary, the saint says, for two reasons. First, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

Interestingly, the saint does not spend much time asking why it’s a remedy for sin. He’s more interested in the passion of Jesus as an example for fashioning our lives. To live perfectly look at Jesus on the cross, an example of every virtue:

“Do you want an  example of love? ‘Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” That’s what Jesus did on the cross. If he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.

“If you want patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid.

“Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.

“If you want an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.

“If you want an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.

“If you want an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.

“Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

Timothy and Titus

Timothy and Titus were co-workers and companions of St. Paul on his early missionary journeys to Asia Minor. Later, Paul entrusted Timothy to lead the church at Ephesus; Titus assumed leadership of the church in Crete. Paul wrote two letters to Timothy and one letter to Titus.

Paul’s main advice to them was to shepherd the whole flock in their care. The old, the young, men and women, the sick and the well, all belong to the church. Jesus Christ came to love and care for them all. Be like Jesus to them, Paul says. That’s still what people in ministry are called to do today.

Like Jesus, Paul never saw himself acting alone; he looked for others to share in his ministry, and so we celebrate the feast of Timothy and Titus after the feast of Paul’s conversion, January 25th.

Some mistakingly consider Paul the founder of the Christian faith rather than Jesus. He’s not. True, he’s a strong personality, as his letters and missionary journeys make clear, but his faith came from the Risen Christ, who revealed himself through the scriptures and heavenly signs.

Paul makes that clear: the church is not his, or Peter’s church, or Apollo’s; it’s the church of Jesus Christ, the Word of God.  Serve the church, Paul says to Timothy and Titus. They are to be “slaves of Christ,” like him their role is, “not to be served, but to serve.” ( Philippians 1,1)

The Letters to Timothy and Titus show a church in transition when the roles of bishops, priests and other ministries were evolving. The notes in the New American Bible–always worth reading–point to the changing nature of these offices.

Reading the notes this time around, I see that the deacons Paul refers to in I Timothy 3, 8-13 may include women as well as men. “This (deacons) seems to refer to women deacons, but may possibly mean the wives of deacons. The former is preferred because the word is used absolutely…”

Why not today? We need women in roles of leadership. I have some in mind who would fit the role very well.

The Conversion of St. Paul

st.paul conversion copy

Today’s the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul.

It’s interesting comparing the call of Paul the Apostle, vividly described in today’s first reading, to the call of the apostles recorded early on in the gospels.

Jesus walked along the Sea of Galilee and called Peter and Andrew, James and John, then the rest of them, and told them to follow him. Come and see. They came and saw, they heard his teaching and saw the wonders he worked, not always understanding him. They grew in faith slowly, it seems. Their conversion was gradual, only complete when they experienced the mystery of his resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Our conversion seems more like that of Peter, Andrew and the other apostles than Paul’s conversion in a blinding moment. Our conversion is a gradual, lifetime process.

Paul’s conversion reminds us that conversion is primarily God’s work and God’s gift. Caravaggio’s dramatic painting of Paul on the flat of his back, arms outstretched, helplessly blind is a vivid picture of humanity before God. God alone gives the gift of faith.

That realization certainly inspired Paul as he grew in faith himself. God willed to save a sinful world. He himself was an example of God’s conquering grace.

St. John Chrysostom says of him:  “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.

“When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…

The most important thing of all to him, however, was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”

May God save us.