Monthly Archives: February 2017

Morning Thoughts: The Sound of Life


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Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

—Genesis 2:7


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What is it this moment holds? Not last night, not later today. This moment. What does it hold?

Friendship.

Hello my friend. Good morning.

It is cold. Outside. In here though, it’s quite comfortable.

Just you and me.

Just me and you.

Shall we talk or just sit a while?

Ha, that reminds me of being in the chapel, early in the morning.

No one speaking but such a beautiful sound.

An old man, a holy priest, breathing quite loud.

But it wasn’t just air passing to and fro.

It was the sound of “spirit and truth.

———

Community is the beautiful sound of other people breathing.

———

May God truly bless your day. May we both appreciate what He has given. And may we forgive each other our petty crimes. For you, my friend, in many ways, here and now, in earthen clay, are all I got. For without you—my neighbor, my brother, my wife, my boss, my employee, my business partner, my competitor, my foe—I won’t glimpse the face of Christ. And that I so badly need to do. He is after all, all we truly got. My face and yours will dry up and wrinkle, His remains the same. His love never gets old. May we hear each other breathe, with compassion and mercy, knowing that so much we take in causes mold. But it’s also in that very sound—the mysterious sound of breath—that can seemingly annoy us to death—that we witness daily the Word become flesh, again and again, to and fro, the entire universe, expand and contract.

We hear the One who sits on the throne.

We hear Him reconciling the world to Himself.


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Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit…

—John 20:21-22


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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: A Happy Statement

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What state are we meant to be?

To be happy. No matter the circumstances. No matter the facts. No matter the evidence you see.

But shouldn’t we try to change unfavorable circumstances? Help beautify ugly facts? And want to witness genuine good being done?

Yes. Good desires, are all three. And, still, happy is the state you should be.

But are there not times we cry, we grieve, we fight? Times for righteous anger? Times, if you will, to flip the tables of hypocrisy?

Yes. Seasons such as these, yes, they do come and go. Happy is the state you should be.

But surely then, being happy too is also a phase, one that must come and go?

That I hope not. For happy is hope. And hope is always. Always happy. Knowing that somehow, someway, it’s all gonna be ok. That’s the state of hope. And happy is such a state. A state that is meant to be. A state to move into. And to stay. Not just for visits. A permanent lease. A place within. A home. From within which all seasons are observed. A duck blind. From which all God’s creation is closely, and quietly, and calmly glorified.

A place of patience. And of great expectation.

A place of simplicity. And of bare bones.

A place of abundance. And of hearty bread and good wine.

A place set apart.

A place setting for two, or perhaps for three or four…

A place for more. And a place of much less.

Surely, then, you speak of a different type of “happy”—a different type of “happy” than that known to the world? You simply speak of a place I do not know!

I speak. And what I speak comes to be. I speak Joy. I speak Peace. I speak Love. I speak Mercy. I speak Grace. I speak Kingdom. I speak now. Put out your arm. Look at your hand. Is that distance far? Shorten it still by placing your palm upon your heart. Now say, “Thy kingdom come.” I say it’s that close. I say the kingdom is at hand. I say it resides within. I say it is not of this world.

You are not of this world.

You are of ME.

And I AM.

And I say happy.

Live in the place I meant for you to be.

Perpetually.

A place for all seasons, of all times, beyond all phases.

Now go!

Happy is a state meant to be.


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—Howard Hain

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Feast of St. Polycarp

Today’s the feast of St. Polycarp. Some years ago, I visited Izmir in Turkey where Polycarp, a revered Christian bishop, was martyred about the year 155. The city was then called  Smyrna.  Now predominantly Muslim, there’s a small church of St. Polycarp in the city and up the mountain is the ancient agora and the ruins of the stadium where Polycarp was burned to death by the Romans.

The account of his martyrdom, sent to other Christian churches by the Christians of Smyrna, is one of the most interesting documents of the early church. Polycarp was an old man. As a child he knew John the Apostle and was a friend of Ignatius of Antioch, another early bishop martyred for the faith. He was also a teacher of Irenaeus, who became bishop of Lyon in Gaul.

The old bishop went to his death peacefully and heroically, the account indicates:

“When the pyre was ready, Polycarp took off all his clothes and loosened his under-garment. He made an effort also to remove his shoes, though he had been unaccustomed to this, for the faithful always vied with each other in their haste to touch his body. Even before his martyrdom he had received every mark of honour in tribute to his holiness of life.

There and then he was surrounded by the material for the pyre. When they tried to fasten him also with nails, he said: “Leave me as I am. The one who gives me strength to endure the fire will also give me strength to stay quite still on the pyre, even without the precaution of your nails.” So they did not fix him to the pyre with nails but only fastened him instead. Bound as he was, with hands behind his back, he stood like a mighty ram, chosen out for sacrifice from a great flock, a worthy victim made ready to be offered to God.

Looking up to heaven, he said: “Lord, almighty God, Father of your beloved and blessed Son Jesus Christ, through whom we have come to the knowledge of yourself, God of angels, of powers, of all creation, of all the race of saints who live in your sight, I bless you for judging me worthy of this day, this hour, so that in the company of the martyrs I may share the cup of Christ, your anointed one, and so rise again to eternal life in soul and body, immortal through the power of the Holy Spirit. May I be received among the martyrs in your presence today as a rich and pleasing sacrifice. God of truth, stranger to falsehood, you have prepared this and revealed it to me and now you have fulfilled your promise.

“I praise you for all things, I bless you, I glorify you through the eternal priest of heaven, Jesus Christ, your beloved Son. Through him be glory to you, together with him and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.”

When he had said “Amen” and finished the prayer, the officials at the pyre lit it. But, when a great flame burst out, those of us privileged to see it witnessed a strange and wonderful thing. Indeed, we have been spared in order to tell the story to others. Like a ship’s sail swelling in the wind, the flame became as it were a dome encircling the martyr’s body. Surrounded by the fire, his body was like bread that is baked, or gold and silver white-hot in a furnace, not like flesh that has been burnt. So sweet a fragrance came to us that it was like that of burning incense or some other costly and sweet-smelling gum.”

One small incident occurred on our visit to Izmir I still remember. It happened during our visit to the Church of St. Polycarp, which is today the only Christian presence in a Muslim city. The custodian asked us to sign our names in the visitors’ book and as I did I noticed many signatures in Korean. When I asked about them, the custodian said the church is a favorite pilgrimage destination for Korean Catholics.

Somebody must have told Polycarp’s story in Korea and it must have impressed them there. A missionary priest or sister, perhaps? Heroes inspire us. Who know? But we need more Polycarps.

 

Revelation

    In this Wednesday’s Gospel ( MT 16: 13-18 ) Jesus asks His disciples:

            ” ‘ Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ They replied, ‘ Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Then Simon Peter said in reply,’ You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God. ‘  Jesus said to him in reply,’Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah. For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my heavenly Father. And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it.'”

    Over the last week I have allowed myself to be angered and distressed by the news on TV. Out of so many things, what I found most disturbing was the underreported story that the Congress is quietly crafting nearly 100 “riders” that take away or degrade all types of environmental laws, from energy conservation, to the Endangered Species Act, to the protection of the oceans, rivers , lakes, groundwater, and air. There seems to be no way to stop these new laws from being enacted.

    I feel helpless. I even feel embarrassed to ask my Lord Jesus, in prayer, “Why?” . In the darkness I feel Him asking me, ” Who do you say that I am? Am I just a nice priest or prophet to be remembered and venerated? Do you believe that I am the Son of the Living God? Don’t you trust that I am the Savior of the world? Do you have faith that I AM in charge? Don’t you know how much I love my creation?”

    His soothing presence reminds me that only by loving can I begin to do anything about these problems. So I surrender myself, in hope and confidence, to His Will. Like Peter, I confess His kingship. I will be His instrument. He will show me the way.

    And I am not alone. I am part of a great community of love, His Church, where I meet so many good people who want to do good for this world. We also have Peter’s successor, Pope Francis. He is a compassionate man, a rock of righteousness, a strong voice in our world, strong enough to reach the ears of the powerful. His message advocates for the poor, the oppressed, the dispossessed, and also reminds us of our urgent need to protect God’s Creation.

    So, Beloved Heavenly Father, never mind my thoughts and the thoughts of men. You have given me confidence in You, and I thank You for Your Revelation: Christ lives, and loves, and cares for us . We are not floundering alone in a wild, threatening sea. We are standing on firm rock.

Orlando Hernández

Morning Thoughts: Taste and See

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“What does it taste like?”

This is the main question I hear from eight-year-olds who are about to make their First Holy Communion.

At first, I confess, I saw it as quite cute, “childlike” if you will— their little focus on the very obvious—the actual physical experience of eating something—something they have never eaten before.

But once again, the “teacher’ plays the fool. No, not “plays” the fool, in this case the “teacher” is actually the fool.

Grownups can be so busy moving on to the “real” point that they often miss the healthiest part of the meal.

And we think it’s the children who are obsessed with sweets?

———

Of course, I was not the one to correct my own error. The only true teacher, Jesus, and the only true guide, The Holy Spirit, once again came to the rescue.

———

It was about 8:20 on an ordinary weekday morning. I had just left the pew and got in line to receive Communion. And as I walked toward the altar I found myself quietly asking: “What does it taste like?”

There I was, a full-fledged adult, a “mature” believer, in line with all the eight-year olds of the world—though with one great exception—I was probably the only one who lacked sincerity.

Not that I didn’t really wonder what it tastes like. I did. But my “bigness” wouldn’t leave good enough alone. I quickly translated the simple into the complex: “What does it taste like?” became “What is heaven like?”

Not a bad question, of course. But not the one being asked. Once again, I was rushing right to dessert. But not so the eight-year-old. No, the eight-year-old is much more straightforward, sincere, genuine, and ironically, no nonsense. He and she are much more down-to-earth, which in this case, strangely enough, brings them much closer to heaven.

Their question is simply what it seems. They have no hidden pomposity dressed up as profundity. They are simply asking a quite simple question.

“What does it taste like?”

And if there’s any need for more elaboration concerning such a straightforward question, it should only make their point simpler, not more complex. For example, I guess in order to help us adults see more clearly what they mean, perhaps it’s safe to say that the eight-year-old is literally asking: “What does this thing that I am about to put in my mouth, that you tell me is the real, actual body of Jesus Christ, a man who died almost two-thousand years ago, really taste like?”

Good question.

And to allow the eight-year-old in me to answer, I say, it kind of tastes like cardboard.

Good answer.

It’s dry, bland, you might even say, stale.

Kind of what you’d expect, at best, from something two-thousand-years-old.

Kind of what mankind has tasted on a daily basis since the beginning of time, since the time Adam and Eve were sent forth from the garden to work for their daily bread.

Life can be like cardboard.

It can be dry, bland, you might even say, stale.

It can even be what we come to expect.

At least for us adults, for those of us who only take things at face value.

For, you see, the child in his or her utterly face-value question reveals his or her astounding trust and playfulness within the much deeper mystery of what truly exists but cannot be seen. For there is another question, one that eight-year-olds don’t ask nearly as often when it comes to First Holy Communion.

They hardly ever ask: “How can that be?”

They move right past the “how” to get to the “taste and see.

———

No matter the age, what brings sincerity is faith, and what increases faith is sincerity.

Therefore all questions safely asked from under the umbrella of faith are not questions casting doubt.

No, they are genuine gestures of childlike wonder, that simply ask in one way or another:

“What is this faithful reality going to be like for me?”


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“Taste and see that the Lord is good.”

—Psalm 34:9


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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: A Call to Praise God


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Come, let us sing to the Lord

and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us.

—Psalm 95:1


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Come,

Me? Am I included? Can I come as well? But you are God? Am I really allowed to join the celebration?

But Your Word simply says “Come”. It’s an open invitation, right? An open call; no qualifications, no applications, no background checks, no letters of introduction required?

It seems pretty clear. So I guess I shall. I shall come along. After all, I’ve followed crowds all my life, perhaps it’s time to follow the “great cloud of witnesses”—Your patriarchs and Your prophets, Your holy angels and Your holy saints. I will come along then. Forgive me though, Lord, for not being properly dressed. But if I were to first run home to change, I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Plus, I might then miss the entire affair.

No, I’ll come now, just as I am—no more excuses, no more procrastination—for the procession is well under way.

…let us sing to the Lord…

But…forgive me, Lord…there I go again, once more I begin a thought with such an ugly conjunction. “But”…I am so unprepared. Sing? Me? In Public? With my voice? You know well the noise I make. But then again, I cannot deny it, when I am alone, You know Lord that I love to sing. I truly do. All kinds of melodies, all kinds of hymns. I even compose. And chanting, that too I do. In fact, to be really honest, I don’t think I’m half bad. Come to think of it, I’m actually pretty good. Relatively speaking, of course. Put it this way, within my little “monastic cell”, within the confines of my “inner room”—with the “door” well “shut”—I not only “sing”, but “dance”.

Perhaps it’s time to take the show on the road?

…and shout with joy…

Yes. With this one there are no “ifs, ands, or buts.” That I can do. I can shout. I can “shout with joy”. “You are fantastic! Truly!! I love You!!!” And the more I say it, the more joy I feel. So shout? Shout with joy? Yes, that I will do. I do it now. Right now. Even if it wakes my neighbors. Maybe precisely because it might wake my neighbors. I shout. I shout. I shout. “JOY!” “JOY!” “JOY!” And as I do, I remember. A sweet memory. A joyful memory. A memory that makes a small smile grow larger and eventually into a laugh, an out-loud laugh, even while sitting all by myself. And yet, that’s just the point, “with joy” we are never alone. For a memory—a memory transformed by hope—brings resurrection and divine significance to even the smallest details of our life. “The memory of the just will be blessed.” Bringing the Kingdom to life, but not only in our here and now, for the Holy Spirit also breathes life into our past.

The specific memory I now recall—the one currently “at hand” and recreating “earth as it is in heaven”—involves a classmate I knew many years ago in elementary school. Her name was Joy.

I don’t remember shouting with Joy, but I do clearly recall that she was the prettiest girl in class.

…to the Rock who saves us.

I blame you. You blame me. We both blame Adam. He blames Eve. She blames Satan. He doesn’t care about anything, all he wants is for us not to blame ourselves. For if we don’t “repent” how can we possibly “believe in the gospel”? And that’s the beginning of the end of not buying the “good news”. For the Kingdom begins when we realize we need to be saved from ourselves. And without that self knowledge, without the realization that we cannot anchor ourselves to ourselves, we drift falsely self-assured in utter chaos, “without form and shape, with darkness over the abyss.”  In other words, for you and for me, and for all who “cast the first stone”, “the kingdom of God” is no longer “at hand.”

Lucky for us, some stones miss their target. Some even fall right as they fall into place. For “the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus, rejected by the builders of earthly kingdoms, fell asleep on the wood of the cross. He slept the sleep of death, dead to all the world, while His soul was still awake, truly awake to all those “saved in hope.” For “the hope of the just brings them joy.”

Jesus is then “the Rock”—“the Rock” who was laid within the “rock-hewn tomb”.

He is the “cornerstone” and the entire “temple”—the stone “temple” totally torn “down” (“not one stone…left upon another”) and completely raised up “in three days”.

He is “the living stone” toward whom we “shout with joy”.

Jesus is truly “the Rock who saves us.”

And even if we reject His plea to be “also, like living stones”, failing to let ourselves “be built into a spiritual house”, there will still be praise. For His glory won’t be denied:

As Jesus Himself replied: “I tell you, if they keep silent, the very stones will cry out!”


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Come, let us sing to the Lord

and shout with joy to the Rock who saves us.

—Psalm 95:1


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—Howard Hain

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Morning Thoughts: Like Unto Thine

February 14th

My Lord, my God, my Love,

Where can I begin?

Just this week alone, how much you have given…

A chance to help someone pursue good, a chance to help someone turn from darkness, a chance to help someone enter further into Your church, a chance to help someone see hope for his entire family, a chance to help someone re-encounter the little girl she once was, a chance to help someone see the magnificence of marriage, a chance to help someone regain her composure within the day-to-day grind, a chance to help a young someone meet You in Your gift of the Eucharist, a chance to help someone realize he is an instrument of Your peace…

That someone being helped is someone else, and that someone is also me.

Your gifts, my good, good Lord, send forth ripples of grace, covering those we serve for Your sake, covering ourselves, and covering so many others, so many who are so far beyond the limits of what we can see.

You are real. You exist today, right now. You will never be outdone in love or in generosity.

How could I ever say enough?

Give me Lord the chance to help someone praise You for all eternity.

Increase Your love in me.

Increase my love of souls.

And when, O Lord, this trek, this adventure, this stroll, comes to an end, may I please, good, good Lord, be with You?

May I truly rest with You, as I begin to do now—within arm’s reach—Your Kingdom, Your Promise, Your Joy, Your Peace.

It is all too much.

It makes me wonder why…why I…why anyone…would ever desire to sell an eternal soul in order to purchase a fleeting here and now—when all that could ever truly be desired is offered through the tiniest of tastes and the smallest of sips—Your Body and Blood, cloaked within the appearance of daily bread and table wine.

Thank You, Lord.

From my heart to Yours:

“O Jesus, meek and humble of heart, make my heart like unto Thine.”

O Jesus, this day, be my Valentine.


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—Howard Hain

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Friday Thoughts: “Prophesy!”

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Gerard van Honthorst, “Saint Peter Being Freed from Prison”, 1616-18


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“What further need have we of witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

They all condemned him as deserving to die.

Some began to spit on him.

They blindfolded him and struck him and said to him, “Prophesy!”

And the guards greeted him with blows.

While Peter was below in the courtyard…

—Mark 14:63-66


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I don’t want to hear myself.

I want to hear from You.

My thoughts, my concerns, my feelings, bore me terribly.

I think You are silent but I know it isn’t true.

The moon is so very full this night and so are You.

The coffee I sip is bitter.

Your Word hangs on every tree.

If only Lord we could see.

Drama. Tragedy. Puppet show. Divine Comedy.

Me, me, me, look at me!

But it is You raised up high.

For all to see.

Forgive us, Father, for we still haven’t a clue.


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The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”

With him they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left.

Those passing by reviled him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself by coming down from the cross.”

Likewise the chief priests, with the scribes, mocked him among themselves and said, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.”

Those who were crucified with him also kept abusing him.

—Mark 15:26-32


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—Howard Hain

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