Monthly Archives: July 2017

August is Here

At the start of each month I email members of the Confraternity of the Passion and anyone else who asks a calendar indicating the scripture readings for the Mass and the feast days of the saints we remember that month.

The reason I do is that following the church calendar is an important way to grow in faith.It puts us in touch with the scriptures in our daily lectionary and the wonderful world of the saints.

Reading the daily scriptures together with fellow believers throughout the world develops a common mind, as it were. Fortunately, not just Catholics use the daily lectionary, some Protestant churches use it now too; so more Christians read the same scriptures together through the year.

Praying together can bring us together, we hope. Praying the scriptures together, which the Catholic church encouraged at the Second Vatican Council, is a step towards Christian unity. Blessed Dominic Barberi, Passionist whose feast is August 26th was especially dedicated to the work of Christian unity.

This month at Mass we continue reading from Matthew’s gospel. With chapter 14, Jesus begins to establish his church, built on Peter, a rock, but a frail man who with the other disciples must follow Jesus to the cross.

The following chapters from Matthew offer an instruction about the nature of the church. Its members must care for each other and forgive those who have offended them. At the same time they’re obliged to correct their fellow Christians, even to the point of separation from the community. (Matthew 18)

During the first few weeks of August we’ll continue reading from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers about the Jewish exodus from Egypt led by Moses. Then we’ll read about their occupation of Canaan under Joshua and the Judges.

It’s a brutal occupation. Our lectionary softens our exposure to it by limiting what we read about it, but even so, why the violence? Why so many exterminated in the name of God? The scriptures raise questions and cause objections as well as give answers and raise our hopes.

Here’s where good commentaries and wise answers help; otherwise, we lapse into biblical fundamentalism. I’m reading the commentaries from the New American Bible, which recognize we can’t read these books as literal history. There’s a human hand at work in them.

God reveals himself progressively to the human family, which is intent on its own welfare and quick to destroy rather than build. God works in mud. Here’s a quote I like:

“Progressive revelation throughout Israel’s history produced far more lofty ideals, as when the prophets see all the nations embracing faith in Yahweh, being joined to Israel, and living in peace with one another (Is 2:2419:232545:2225Zec 8:2223), and the New Testament teaches us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:4345).” (New American Bible, Commentary)

There’s another way to look at the violence and exterminations found in the Book of Joshua:

“The theological message of the book is unmistakable. God has been faithful to the promise of the land. If Israel relies totally on the Lord for victory; if Israel is united as a people; if the law of herem is kept and no one grows rich from victory in war—then and only then will Israel possess the land.”

We’re a long way from possessing the land. “Your kingdom come.”

 

 

 

 

 

Friday Thoughts: Uneasy Mercy

by Howard Hain

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Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be contradicted…

—Luke 2:34


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When we are truly merciful, or at least sincerely try to be merciful—to see others and their deeds through the eyes of the Ever-Loving Eternal Father—there often is an unholy fear that takes place. This fear is not the fear of God. This fear is not from God.

No, the fear of God—the good and righteous “fear of the Lord”—a gift of the Holy Spirit—is not the fear to which I am referring. Let us make that perfectly clear. Absolutely not. That fear—the good and righteous “fear of the Lord”—is a great grace and is actually what prompts us to be merciful toward others in the first place.

The fear that I am referencing is superficial, like all fear other than the only fear we should ever have, “the fear of the Lord.” Whether this superficial fear comes from the world, from our own weak flesh, or from Satan, is not very important. For what we need to know and always remember is that this superficial fear is not of or from God.

It is the fear of being accused. Accused of condoning. For when we see others with true mercy we no longer merely look at their acts, no matter how sinful they may be. No, we see first and foremost a person. More so, we see a child. A child who is frightened. A child who is running a high fever. And no one with any heart at all, even if it be a calloused and somewhat hardened heart, wants to punish a frightened or feverish child.

No, no matter our maternal or paternal instinct, or lack thereof, the truly human instinct is to hug. To help. To hold. To heal. To alleviate the fear and burning pain.

But without God’s grace we too often, almost always in terms of statistical significance, do not see a child.

We only see a person who has harmed our world, our society, our way of life, our order, our peace.

We only see a person who—no matter how indirectly his or her actions might affect us—has harmed us and our families personally, and we along with the rest of the mob want justice.

A conflict takes place.

God’s perspective versus the world’s. A frightened and sick child versus a criminal who must be punished. Mercy versus justice.

But the conflict isn’t real. God not only loves justice too, God is Justice. And he sent His Only Begotten Son as expiation for the great injustice of mankind. Our kind. Our sin.

For God to only see the need for punishment is for God to deny His Only Begotten Son. That is not going to happen.

So the next time you feel the desire to be merciful—the need to be merciful—even toward the most “obvious” and “blatant” sinner do not give into the temptation. The temptation to fear. The fear that you are in some way condoning the sinful action because you are refusing to demand immediate and absolute punishment, a punishment that “fits the crime.”

No, say the Lord’s Prayer.

You are on God’s side. God is being merciful through you. And no matter how intimidated you may feel, be “firm and steadfast” in God’s love and mercy.

For you too love justice. You too love Jesus. And Jesus is Justice.

Jesus is Living and Breathing Justice.

And it is through this very person, The Person of Jesus, that “mercy and truth have met each other: justice and peace have kissed.” (Psalm 85:11)

Praise be to God.


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Martha, Martha

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We read St. Luke’s account of Jesus’ visit to Bethany for the Feast of St. Martha. It’s part of Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem (Luke 10,38-42), a journey Luke describes,  not by miles, but by the people Jesus meets.

Jesus is a prophet speaking God’s word as he goes. Some reject him outright on his way to Jerusalem.  Jesus enters the house of Martha and Mary as a prophet speaking God’s word. Unfortunately Martha, busy about many things, misses his word and Jesus rebukes her. Mary hears his word and is praised. Good as she is, Martha’s carrying too many of the “cares of this life” when Jesus visits.

That’s what Luke wants us to learn from this gospel- the cares of this life can get in the way of hearing God’s word. But we all know there’s more to Martha than what Luke tells us here. Other New Testament sources praise this good woman.  John’s gospel, for example, says that  Jesus was a long time friend of Lazarus and his sisters in Bethany.

I keep two other sources in mind when I read Luke’s story.  One is a painting (above) by the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, showing Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist imagines a supper at Bethany. The table’s set for four people– that would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha. But look at the others coming in the door. Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One disciple gestures towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands in frustration, “What are we going to do?”
There will be no miracle. The miracle is Martha’s hospitality. Thanks to her,  more than four are going to be fed. We need artists like di Milano to flesh out what the gospels say.

The other source I like is St. Augustine who obviously has a soft spot for Martha and the work she does. Both Martha and Mary had the same holy desire, Augustine says: “ They stayed close to our Lord and both served him harmoniously when he was among them.”

Martha served him as the “Word made flesh,” who was hungry and thirsty, tired and in need of human care and support. She longs to share what Mary enjoys, his presence, his wisdom and his gifts. And she will find her desires fulfilled.

“You, Martha, if I may say so, will find your service blessed and your work rewarded with peace. Now you are much occupied in nourishing the body, admittedly a holy one. But when you come to the heavenly homeland you will find no traveller to welcome, no one hungry to feed or thirsty to give drink, no one to visit or quarreling to reconcile, no one dead to bury.”

“No, there will be none of these tasks there. What you will find there is what Mary chose. There we shall not feed others, we ourselves shall be fed. What Mary chose in this life will be realized there in full. She was gathering only fragments from that rich banquet, the Word of God. Do you wish to know what we will have there? The Lord himself tells us when he says of his servants, Amen, I say to you, he will make them recline and passing he will serve them.”

Want to see Bethany, home of Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Take a look here.

A Field Full of Questions, and Answers

By Orlando Hernandez

This Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 13:1-9 ) presents Jesus’ parable of the sower, which was read two Sundays ago in longer form. Our Lord tells us:

“ A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep, and when the sun rose it was scorched, and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it. But some seeds fell on rich soil, and produced fruit, a hundred or sixty or thirtyfold. Whoever has ears ought to hear. “

Last Sunday we heard the parable of the weeds among the wheat ( Mt 13:24-43 ), showing us again the we should have great admiration for farmers, because getting crops to grow is no easy thing! I myself desperately need a “green thumb”. I have this patch of grass in front of my house that frustrates me even year. I keep on adding fertilizer and more and more grass seeds, but eventually the place looks much more barren than the rest of the lawn. What is the earth in this section lacking? What does then other section of the lawn have? I just don’t know.

Now, how do these metaphors pertain to my spiritual life? I have to ask, what was there suddenly present in the soil of my heart, after forty-two years without faith, that God suddenly became alive and urgent in my life? That was ten years ago. Then, when I first heard these parables, I became terrified at the thought that my soul was really like the rocky soil in the parable, that the religious fervor and joy that I was feeling was just a passing thing, that I would let Jesus down again. And the weeds and the choking thorns? It seemed that every time things did not turn out right, someone got on my nerves, laziness got the best of me, or suffering hit me in the face, I reacted in a less than Christian way! And yet, despite the ups and downs, the  “ scorching “ summers, the rough winters, in the end this field of mine keeps on yielding a harvest of faith, hope, and love from God, in God, for God and for all His children. Thank you, Beloved!

What has kept the soil of my heart “rich” enough all these years ? Our Lord says that it is understanding of the word of God. How does one “understand” the word of God, with the mind, with the heart, or both ? What is this understanding like ? What is the “ word “ of God ?

This is too much to fully cover in this writing, but here are some ideas. I feel the word of God is his very Self — which is his unfathomable love, and when love touches your soul, you’re ready for anything. And how to we perceive this message of love ? This faculty is also a gift of God. Saint Paul tells us, “ no one knows what pertains to God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit of God so that we may understand the things freely given us by God.”( 1 Cor, 2 : 11-12 )

This understanding, this love, is the “ food “ that makes the field of our hearts ready to grow good crops. We are also the crop : good, golden wheat, to be cut and tossed about, threshed, and crushed, baked, blessed, broken, and given for the world in the name of Christ! This is really not very appealing to many people (and so the barren fields ). It does not seem that pleasurable or glamorous. Why has it appealed to me ?
Wednesday’s first reading (Ex, 6 : 12-15 ) describes the manna that falls from heaven to feed the people. God’s “Miracle Growth” of faith, his Holy Spirit, has fallen unto the field of my soul for so many years, softly, and gradually, and lovingly. I was looking at the entries in my spiritual journal over the last number of years and came across so many inspirations in my life, brought by the holy example of so many people : my son, who got me to come back to church, my wife, who is my guide in so many ways, the many, many kind, loving priests who opened my heart to the scriptures and to the loving message of God. There are so many folks that I have helped, and helped me along the way, showing me their example and sacrifice, their very love, their light. And there is Jesus, Himself, the crucified and risen One, coming to me every day with his patience and tenderness, in the Eucharist and in prayer.

All these persons have indeed been God’s wheat, God’s bread, blessed, broken, given onto me like gently falling dew upon the soil of my life, spiritual food for my soul. I am reminded that St. Paul of the Cross once said something like this : “ The human soul is the ground upon which God rests.” The Greek word for soil is “ hummus “, the root of the word “ humility “ . This humility, also a gift from God , seems to be one of those ingredients also needed for the soil of our hearts to accept the word of God.

Dear Lord, thank you for opening my eyes to the miracle of your loving presence resting within me. Please, open the eyes of those around me. Give me the wisdom and strength to reflect you. Give me the ” green thumb” that I need so much!

Orlando Hernandez

The Story of Ann and Joachim

Joachim among the Shepherds

We celebrate the Feast of Ann and Joachim today, parents of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, tradition says, but there’s nothing in the scriptures about them. There is an early 2nd century document called the Gospel of James that tells their story. I’ll use that early document as a basis for telling their story to you.

Ann and Joachim lived in Jerusalem, tradition says, where Joachim, a descendant of David and a wealthy man, provided sheep and other offerings for the temple sacrifices. The couple had ties to Bethlehem and Nazareth.

They were well off but for twenty years one disappointment clouded their marriage: they had no child. Even after vowing to dedicate their child to God, no child came. And so, at a time when children were especially treasured, they were thought poor. Descendants of David, they were blamed also for failing to continue the line the Messiah would come from.

Stung by criticism, Joachim spent more time in the mountains, brooding among the shepherds and the sheep. As her husband distanced himself from her, Ann too felt the sadness of childlessness. God seemed far away.

In the garden one day, noticing some sparrows building a nest in a laurel tree, Ann burst into tears: “Why was I born, Lord?” she said, “birds build nests for their young and I have no child of my own. The creatures of the earth, the fish of the sea are fruitful, but I have nothing. The land has a harvest, but I have no child  in my arms.”

At that moment, an angel of the Lord came and said, “”Ann, the Lord has heard your prayer. You shall conceive a child the whole world will praise. Hurry to the Golden Gate and meet your husband there.”

In the mountains, meanwhile, an angel in dazzling light  spoke to Joachim, “Don’t be afraid. I come to say the Lord hears your prayers. God knows your goodness and your sorrow and will give your wife a child as he did Sara, Abraham’s wife, and Anna,  mother of Samuel. You  will have a daughter and name her Mary.  Offer her to God, for she will be filled with the Holy Spirit from her mother’s womb. I give you a sign: Go back to Jerusalem. You’ll meet your wife at the Golden Gate and your sorrow will turn into joy.”

Joachim and Ann met at the Golden Gate to the temple, the place of God’s presence. They embraced as they spoke of the angel’s promise. Returning home, Ann conceived and bore a daughter, and they called her “Mary.”

When she was three years old, Ann brought Mary to the temple where she learned to read the scriptures, to pray and take part in the Jewish feasts celebrated through the year. She watched her father bring lambs to be offered in sacrifice. She grew in wisdom and grace in the presence of God.

When Mary approached marriage age– then 15 or so–her parent arranged for her marriage as it was the custom. They sought the high priest’s advice, tradition says, and Joseph of Nazareth was chosen as her husband. At the time, Ann and Joachim made Nazareth their home.

During this time the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary and announced that she was to be the Mother of Jesus. By the power of the Holy Spirit she conceived the Child.

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem, Mary and Joseph returned to Nazareth where Jesus would grow up. He was raised him in a large extended family that included his grandparents, Ann and Joachim, who cared for him as a child.

No one knows just when or where Ann and Joachim died, but Jesus must have treasured them in life and on their passage to God.

My retelling of the story of Ann and Joachim is based on the 2nd century Protoevangelium of James–an apostle related to Jesus. The story repeats a fundamental theme of  the Book of Genesis: God promises Adam and Eve they will have many children and enjoy the blessings of the earth. God repeats the promise to an aged, childless couple, Abraham and Sarah, and again to Anna, who bemoans her childlessness to the priest Eli in the temple. As he dealt with them God gives a child to Ann and Joachim, Mary, their daughter, who will bring blessings to the nations through her son Jesus Christ, born of the Holy Spirit.

The illustrations, which helped popularize the story of Ann and Joachim in Italy, Europe and the rest of the western world, are Giotto’s, from the 14th century, and are found in the Arena Chapel in Padua.

Grandmothers and grandfathers appreciate this story. Like Ann and Joachim they have a big role in raising those who will bless another generation.

Morning Thoughts: One Good Influence

by Howard Hain

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Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.

—Psalm 90:12


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Sometimes I feel I have no identity at all. I am at each new successive moment the current culmination of the influences upon me.

I don’t know if this statement is true or not, or if it has any truth attached to it at all—or if perhaps it is merely some kind of “existential” temptation. But just in case there is something to it—something worth paying attention to—I should probably then also ask this very real and relevant question:

What influences are upon me?

If I don’t begin my list with “THE WORD”, then something is certainly not right.

Something is clearly out of order.

“Lord…order our days in your peace…” (Eucharistic Prayer I)

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It is worth noting that ‘days’ takes the plural form, as does ‘words’.

And let us remember that that is not what God sent.

God sent His Son. Not words.

“And the Word became flesh…”

Jesus is truly singular. So much so He is the only universal.

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So as we receive our daily correction, and as we get ourselves back in order, let us spend time sincerely reading Sacred Scripture, and let us also remember to never mistake the words for The Word: The Living Breathing Presence of Jesus Christ. The Person. The Man. God Made Man. The Only True Being. Ultimate Reality. Ultimate Unity. Ultimate Oneness. The Guy Next Door.

For Jesus is alive.

He lives “before the foundation of the world”. He lives a few thousand years ago. He lives tomorrow. And yes, He lives today—much closer in fact to each and everyone of us—and in much less “extraordinary” circumstances than we too often are told to think.

Let us be influenced.


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With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.

—2 Peter 3:8


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