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.

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Community is the beautiful sound of other people breathing.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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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