Monthly Archives: June 2018

Descending with Jesus


by Orlando Hernandez

In this Thursday’s Gospel (Mt 6: 7-15) our Lord Jesus introduces the “Our Father” to His followers. This prayer is certainly a pillar of our Catholic faith. I find the Lord’s Prayer so comforting and yet so challenging, even disturbing. At times it feels like a downward slide from Heaven into the heart of life’s darkness.

In the previous day’s Gospel (Mt 6: 6) Jesus describes prayer as a private, secret moment with God in our “inner room”. This is the kind of prayer I always yearn for, full of gratitude, no petitions, not even words, just basking in the loving light of God, present within, and all around me. It feels like a vacation from life. To feel loved like that!

Unfortunately, this does not happen every day. There are times when I feel so dry and lost in darkness, where the fire within me has dwindled down to a small, smoldering ember. There are times when I feel so frustrated with the situation, or so anxious, that I don’t know what to do. It is always in these moments that I find myself going back to the Lord’s Prayer. It never fails to begin to put me back on track, with my Lord. It is my way back into the Light. I find myself praying the “Our Father” several times during the week. This prayer is no vacation from life. It strengthens us to confront the dangers of life, but it is not easy.

I try to pray it in a quiet place, slowly and carefully. It has such a blissful beginning. I feel so close to Jesus, praying with me, teaching me. Sometimes I even imagine myself with Him, on a Galilean hill, beneath the rim of the Milky Way, surrounded by the universe, in the presence of Abba, the tender Father. In my mind’s eye, Papa has blue eyes, like my handsome earthly father, Orlando, when he would hold me in his arms as a toddler. I feel so loved and protected. I am indeed in Heaven, with my loving God.

And I am not alone, but with all of humanity, saints and angels “hallowing” , praising, recognizing the goodness, the beauty, the truth of “His name!” Wow! This Kingdom is a kingdom of love and hope. The Will of the Father is all mercy and happiness for me.

Then, it seems, maybe not completely. I realize how much is required of me, so many difficult tests, so many painful experiences that might come. I must accept what God has in store for me. I say “Yes,” even knowing how prone I am to letting Him down.

In asking for “our daily bread,” I imagine Jesus, the Bread of Life. I can almost taste Him. I love Him so much. But somehow He reminds me of humanity’s constant challenge to find the daily bread, the basic things that we need to survive. I pray for my family, my friends: may they not lose their jobs. We have it so good in our country, but the threat of having to rely upon a food pantry or a homeless shelter is not so far away for most of us. I pray for the hundreds of millions of people without adequate shelter, nourishment, even water. I think about how little I do to be God’s instrument for the fulfillment of this petition— send money to relief agencies, work at St. Vincent de Paul, give $20 to a homeless person? Does that even make a dent? I find myself feeling helpless and guilty.

Then I ask forgiveness once again for the many sins I constantly repeat! My heart breaks when I imagine His Son on the Cross, because of these sins. I realize how undeserving I am. I remember my grudges and secret resentments. Can I forgive? I pray for so many brothers, sisters, parents and children in my own family, who cannot forgive each other. I pray for humanity, caught in a cycle of offense and counter-offense. Am I an instrument of God’s peace?

I am filled with the fear of giving in to so many temptations within and without me. Come on! Where is my confidence? Father, help me, help me! Deliver us from the evil inside of us. Help us to control ourselves!

And the evil from outside? The danger of violence, disease, accidents, natural disasters? The morning news remind us of so many ruined lives. I think of my atheist friends asking, “How could a loving God permit this?”

And then, abruptly, the prayer ends. Am I ready to say “Amen?” Do I believe with all my heart that God will actually answer all our pleas? I find myself forcing my eyes away from the not-so-far-away abyss of doubt. I frown. I approach the abyss. I jump and cry, “Lord!” And God always catches me in His loving hands. I begin to feel this strange peace, this hope that our God has the best plan for all of us. I believe that Supernatural Grace has touched me once again. Lord, why do You love me like this? Thank You, Beloved, King of Peace!

I sometimes think of this prayer as Jesus’ battle hymn. Yes, it has a somewhat bleak ending, but it “works”, it strengthens, it comforts. The extra ending that our Church fathers added explains why: “Because Thine is the Kingdom, the Power and the Glory.”
You better believe it! Amen!

Orlando Hernández

Be Holy!

What does it mean to be holy today, Pope Francis asks in his recent Letter “Gaudete et Exultate.” We’re called to holiness, God calls us. Jesus Christ is with us and saints encourage us to achieve that call. There’s a ”great cloud of witnesses” the Letter to the Hebrews says, and we’re called to be in that number.

Don’t miss “the saints next door,” the pope says. “These witnesses may include our own mothers, grandmothers or other loved ones (cf. 2 Tim 1:5). Their lives may not always have been perfect, yet even amid their faults and failings they kept moving forward and proved pleasing to the Lord.”

Canonized saints are not the only ones who are holy, Francis says. “I like to contemplate the holiness present in the patience of God’s people: in those parents who raise their children with immense love, in those men and women who work hard to support their families, in the sick, in elderly religious who never lose their smile. In their daily perseverance I see the holiness of the Church militant. Very often it’s a holiness found in our next-door neighbours, those who, living in our midst, reflect God’s presence. We might call them “the middle class of holiness”. (7]

The pope’s interested in ordinary holiness, and he has a gift for speaking about it. .

We are all called to be holy. “Each in his or her own way,” the Vatican Council says. Each of us has to discern God’s call; we must find our own path, discover the gifts God gives us. We don’t have to follow someone else’s path or have someone else’s gifts. To be holy means to grow with the gifts God gives us.

Some may think only those who have a church calling can be holy. We may think only those who belong to our religious tradition can be holy. Not so, Francis says, It’s a universal call.

You can read Gaudete and Exultate online at the Vatican website. Worth reading. It’s Francis at his best.

11th Week of the Year


June 17 SUN ELEVENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Ez 17:22-24/2 Cor 5:6-10/Mk 4:26-34 (92)

18 Mon Weekday
1 Kgs 21:1-16/Mt 5:38-42 (365)

19 Tue Weekday
[Saint Romuald, Abbot]
1 Kgs 21:17-29/Mt 5:43-48 (366)

20 Wed Weekday
2 Kgs 2:1, 6-14/Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 (367)

21 Thu Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
Memorial
Sir 48:1-14/Mt 6:7-15 (368)

22 Fri Weekday
[Saint Paulinus of Nola, Bishop; Saints John Fisher, Bishop, and Thomas More, Martyrs]
2 Kgs 11:1-4, 9-18, 20/Mt 6:19-23 (369)

23 Sat Weekday
[BVM]
2 Chr 24:17-25/Mt 6:24-34 (370)

We’re reading these days the first and most important of five teachings of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel, the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5, 1-7,29) These extended teachings are not only meant for us. In Matthew’s gospel they indicate how Jesus lived his life and ministry. He lives what he teaches.

Elijah’s story concludes this week in readings praising the mighty prophet. He’s not afraid of the powerful people. Neither is Jesus afraid of the powerful; the crowds who encounter him wonder if he’s not Elijah returned.

The saints this week come from different times, Romuald, 11th century Italy, Paulinus of Nola, 5th century Italy, Aloysius Gonzaga, 16th century Italy, Thomas More and John Fisher, 16th century England. Holiness is found in every age and social condition.

In the Silence


Elijah’s on the run, our scripture reading at Mass today says.

“At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” (1 Kings 19, 1-16)

Some 30 years ago, a younger man climbed that mountain, Sinai, on a memorable tour with Fr. Donald Senior. We rose about 2 AM to begin the climb in the dark, guided up the rocky winding path by a guide with a flashlight. Bedouins offered a camel ride for anyone who couldn’t make it, almost 7,000 feet up.

We arrived at the barren top at sunrise. I remember the silence of the place, the bare rock, the absence of plants or trees or any sign of life. The guide pointed to a speck of green down aways, “Elijah’s cave,” he said. We left before the sun was high; too hot to stay there long.

The scriptural story says Elijah was told to “stand outside on the mountain before the Lord,” and he experienced a strong wind, an earthquake, fire, but God was not in any of these. Then, in the silence, he heard a “tiny whispering sound” and he hid his face before God.

“A tiny whispering sound.” That’s the way God speaks to us, I told those at Mass this morning. Elijah pours out his woes to God. He’s a fugitive, fighting for his life, with no chance against Ahab and Jezebel.

But God whispers to Elijah. Go down the mountain and go north again. Your enemies won’t stop you. There’s a mission I have for you; I’ll be with you. In the silence Elijah heard God.

In the silence of the Eucharist, God whispers.

Love Is Not Easy

By Orlando Hernandez

This Thursday’s Gospel continues with the extremely challenging statements that our Lord pronounces in the Sermon on the Mount:

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5: 20-24)

Our faith and religion is the great gift of God, but we can spoil this gift if we use it as an excuse to feel that we are “better” than our neighbor. Even prayer and piety can unfortunately be used as a cover for inhumane behavior. Our Lord points out the dangerous practices of self-righteousness that can lead to the escalation of conflict which condemns us not only to the loss of love of neighbor, but even to the total disregard for the sanctity of human life, whether through unfettered anger, cold calculation, or simple indifference. We find ourselves imprisoned by hate and guilt: “Your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.” (Mt 5: 25)

Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote explores this sad situation when he talks about the two sides in the Civil War: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God,and each invokes His aid against the other.” I imagine those prayers and see them as ferocious darts, adding to the countless wounds of our Jesus on the Cross. What is right and what is wrong? Why is there so much divisiveness in our country, in our world? Is our real “opponent” happily leading us in chains to the Judge? Are we already in a hopeless Gehenna, where truth and mercy are incinerated along with God’s goal of human unity within His loving embrace?

My conservative son complains that those on “the left” are merely hypocrites, calling themselves compassionate while they approve of the killing of unborn life. This kind-hearted couple, my friends, who were influential in my conversion, now call themselves “Buddhists.” After decades of being zealous Pentecostals, they now feel betrayed by their fellow fundamentalists, who support so many things that they consider divisive and cruel.

Lincoln goes on to say in his speech, “With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” How do we begin to do this? How can I gauge what is “the right as God gives us to see?” How can I hold fast to love, to tolerance, to acceptance of so many people who seem so difficult to me? Only in prayer, in faithful surrender to the love of God can I find the way out of Gehenna, to defeat the real “opponent”, the accuser, the divider. Only God can give me the strength.

But oh, sometimes I feel totally bound up by these negative aggressive thoughts. My loving wife sees me there with that disturbed look she knows so well, and tells me, “Snap out of it! Look around!” Out of concern for me she got me this challenging checklist by Richard Rohr OFM, that she got at her last retreat. It sounds a lot like the Sermon on the Mount. And it is titled “What Might A Joyful Spirit Be?” Joyfulness seems to be the only way out of the prison, and this joy is the Grace that only communion with Jesus can give. Here are some examples, which can be fruitful conduits to prayer:
“ When you do not need to be right.
When you no longer need to compete–not even in your own head.
When you do not need to analyze or judge things as in or out, positive or negative, black or white.
When you can follow the intelligent lead of your heart.
When you are curious and interested, not suspicious and interrogating.
When you do not brood over injuries.
When you do not need to humiliate, critique, or defeat those who have hurt you- not even in your mind.
When you can let go of obsessive or negative thoughts.
When you do not divide and always condemn one side or group.
When you can find truth on both sides.
When you can critique and also detach from the critique.
When you can wait, listen, and learn.
When you can admit it was wrong and change.
When you can actually love without counting the cost.
When you can live satisfied without resolution or closure.
When you can find God in all things.”
Amen.

Orlando Hernández