Monthly Archives: August 2018

The Season of Creation, September 1st -October 5th

The Season of Creation spans five weeks between the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, September 1st, and the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, October 4th

This “time for creation” offers, in the words of Pope Francis, “individual believers and communities a fitting opportunity to reaffirm their personal vocation to be stewards of creation, to thank God for the wonderful handiwork which he has entrusted to our care, and to implore his help for the protection of creation as well as his pardon for the sins committed against the world in which we live.”

“As Christians we wish to contribute to resolving the ecological crisis which humanity is presently experiencing. In doing so, we must first rediscover in our own rich spiritual patrimony the deepest motivations for our concern for the care of creation. We need always to keep in mind that, for believers in Jesus Christ, the Word of God who became man for our sake, “the life of the spirit is not dissociated from the body or from nature or from worldly realities, but lived in and with them, in communion with all that surrounds us” (Laudato Si’, 216). The ecological crisis thus summons us to a profound spiritual conversion: Christians are called to “an ecological conversion whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them” (ibid., 217). For “living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (ibid.)
Pope Francis, August 6, 2015

“The heavens declare your glory, O Lord, and the stars of the sky bring light to our darkness.
You spoke, and the earth burst forth in life, you saw that it was good.
You called forth creation, and enlivened every creature on land and sea.
You made human beings in your image, and set us over the whole world in all of its wonders.
You gave us share in your dominion, and called us “to till and to keep” this garden, the work of your hands.
This day we praise you for your manifold gifts.
May our daily care for your creation show reverence for your name,
and reveal your saving power in every creature under heaven.
We make this prayer in the name of Christ your son, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God forever and ever. Amen.

Reading First Corinthians

We’re reading from the 1st Letter of Paul to the Corinthians for almost the next three weeks at weekday Mass. A long stretch for one of Paul’s letters in our lectionary. It indicates this letter’s importance. It’s important because it gives us a view of what an early 1st century Christian community was like better than any other book of the New Testament. Also, we can learn valuable ways to look at our churches and communities today.

The first thing you notice– this isn’t a perfect church. It has strengths and weaknesses, but its weaknesses seem more obvious than its strengths. That’s because Paul’s letter is written to correct abuses and answer questions that were troubling members of this church. What’s the first thing we might learn? Our churches will never be perfect.

But Paul does not begin the letter enumerating abuses, he speaks of the faithfulness of God, who is always at work purifying and strengthening his church.

Corinth was one of the great port cities of the Roman world, a melting pot for people and cultures of every kind. It had a reputation for moral depravity. Paul went there in the year 51, after visiting Athens where he tried with all his skill to bring the gospel to the Athenians. Evidently, his visit was disappointing. Moving on to Corinth, he went first to the Jews to announce the gospel, as he customarily did, but they turned him away. Then, gentile hearers mostly from the poorer elements of the city embraced the faith.

The situation caused Paul to reflect on what he has experienced. The church is a mystery of God. You can’t judge it by human wisdom or explain it in human terms. It’s God’s church, God’s community, and the Spirit of God is at work. It grows according to God’s plan, not human planning. His task, Paul realizes, is to discern what God wills as the work unfolds.

In Ist Corinthians we have Paul’s humble acknowledgment that, though he is founder of this church, he is a servant among many servants. Other teachers, Apollos and perhaps Peter, have labored in this church and factions have gathered around them. There’s a danger when human teachers take the place of God, Paul writes.

I planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the growth.Therefore, neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who causes the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive wages in proportion to his labor. For we are God’s co-workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. (1 Corinthians 3, 6-9)

We’re God’s field, God’s building. What’s God planting? God building? Those are questions for us to ask.

 

 

 

 

The Passion of John the Baptist

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The death of John the Baptist, sought by Herodias and ordered by Herod, is a dramatic tale vividly told in Mark’s gospel. Because it’s like the Passion of Jesus the church calls John’s death “The Passion of John the Baptist”  and remembers it  August 29th.

Venerable Bede says in a homily that John’s death is like the death of Jesus Christ because they both embraced the same values, they were both unjustly killed for embracing those values.  If John stayed silent about Herod’s conduct, perhaps he would gain a few peaceful years of life, Bede says, but he was more concerned with what God thought than what the powerful people on earth thought.

“His persecutor had demanded not that he should deny Christ, but only that he should keep silent about the truth. Nevertheless, he died for Christ. Does Christ not say: I am the truth?

He preached the freedom of heavenly peace, yet was thrown into irons by ungodly men; he was locked away in the darkness of prison, though he came bearing witness to the Light of life.

“But heaven notices– not the span of our lives– but how we live them, speaking the truth.”

Wonderful line. It doesn’t matter how many years we live, but how we live them, “speaking the truth.”

For John that meant dying for the truth. What does it mean for us? The opening prayer for this feast asks that ” we might fight hard for the confession of what you teach.” May not mean getting our heads chopped off, but getting some scars from the daily battle for God’s truth.

Saint Augustine

Augustine baptism

Augustine’s Baptism, Gozzoli

August 28, Feast of St. Augustine

“Urged to reflect upon myself, I entered under your guidance the innermost places of my being; but only because you had become my helper was I able to do so.”  Augustine, Confessions

And God became his Light.

“O eternal Truth, true Love, and beloved Eternity, you are my God, and for you I sigh day and night. As I first began to know you, you lifted me up and showed me that, while that which I might see exists indeed, I was not yet capable of seeing it. Your rays beamed intensely on me, beating back my feeble gaze, and I trembled with love and dread. I knew myself to be far away from you in a region of unlikeness, and I seemed to hear your voice from on high: ‘I am the food of the mature: grow, then, and you shall eat me. You will not change me into yourself like bodily food; but you will be changed into me’”.

The Light was Christ.

On his feast today, the day after we honor his mother Monica, the church looks at Augustine as one changed by encountering the mystery of God. It was not his brilliant mind or human gifts that created the encounter; it was the grace of God, which we all look for.

Yet, look at the scene of his baptism, above. There’s Monica standing behind St. Ambrose. A mother’s prayers had something to do with it too.

“Late have I loved you, Beauty so ancient and so new, late have I loved you!

Lo, you were within,

but I outside, seeking there for you,

and upon the shapely things you have made

I rushed headlong – I, misshapen.

You were with me, but I was not with you.

They held me back far from you,

those things which would have no being,

were they not in you.

You called, shouted, broke through my deafness;

you flared, blazed, banished my blindness;

you lavished your fragrance, I gasped; and now I pant for you;

I tasted you, and now I hunger and thirst;

you touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

 

 

Here’s a biography of Augustine by Pope Benedict XVI

Here’s a wealth of material on Augustine from Villanova University

Monica

Monica augustine

We remember a mother and her son this week, St. Monica and her son St. Augustine. A song I heard long ago was titled: “A Mother’s Love’s a Blessing.” Augustine could have sung that song.

In his “Confessions,” he praised God for bringing him “late” to a faith he found so beautiful, but he also acknowledges his mother’s tears and prayers helped bring him to Jesus Christ. She was like the woman in the gospel who, as she brought her dead son to be buried, met Jesus who saw her tears and stopped the funeral procession and raised her son to life.

“ I was like that son,” Augustine says. ‘I was dead. My mother’s tears won me God’s life.”

Like many women of her time, we don’t know much about Monica. She married a man named Patricius, a tough husband who put her down and went out with other women. They had three kids, but Augustine was special and she followed him, trying to get him to be the person she knew he could be. Above all, she wanted him to have faith.

He was a hard son to deal with, smart, well educated, hooked on the “lovely things” about him. He was deaf to her advice, blind to the path she wanted him to take, but she followed him anyway, convinced God had something big for him to do, and she finally got her wish

Doesn’t she sound like many today? How many today love their kids, or their husbands or their wives or their friends, but worry they’ll get mixed up in the wrong things–not going to church, deaf to the gospel? But they stick by them anyway.

That’s not easy to do and so it’s good to remember Monica and the moving words to God Augustine wrote in his Confessions. Did he ever show them to her, I wonder?

“O beauty every ancient, O beauty ever new. Late have I have loved thee. You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you. In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created. You were with me, but I was not with you. Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would have not been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness. You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness. You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you. I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

Fittingly, the church celebrates Monica’s feast on August 27th,  the day before her son’s.

Why I Am A Catholic

by Orlando Hernandez

The Gospel readings for this week are full of harsh, ominous sayings by our Lord Jesus. They are filled with characters worthy of rejection by God: the scribes and Pharisees, the careless servants, the foolish virgins, all headed for damnation, punishments, gnashing teeth, Gehenna! I actually could relate to all these unfortunate souls. In many ways I feel as guilty as them. It was very hard for me to choose a Gospel reading to write about.

Careful re-reading and prayer came to the rescue once again. Incredibly, the threatening reading for Monday (Mt 23:13-22) began to show me a way out of Gehenna. Jesus starts proclaiming the “woes” against the scribes and Pharisees. They “lock the Kingdom of heaven before men” (Don’t I in my mind, do this for so many that I judge as hopeless, cruel people?). Jesus goes on to say:

“ Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If one swears by the temple, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gold of the temple, one is obligated.’ Blind fools, which is greater, the gold, or the temple that made the gold sacred? And you say, ‘If one swears by the altar, it means nothing, but if one swears by the gift on the altar, one is obligated.’ You blind ones, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred?”

I do not wish to comment on the historical background for this writing, the bitter conflicts between Pharisaic Judaism and the Church of Matthew at the time, which might have influenced Matthew’s writing. What I need to do is to express what Jesus tells me when I read His attacks on the Pharisees and scribes.

We are not supposed to “swear”, but an oath can be a kind of pledge, a commitment that leads to a way of life. Why are so many people committed to follow the Catholic Church? Is it the “gold,” the grandeur , the power of the institution that calls to us, and gives us some sense of security? When we walk into a church building are we simply mesmerized by the splendor all around, the vastness of the place, the large crowd, the ritual, the gold, the place of leadership, respect, and wisdom that we give to our priests and bishops? Is it because we need to belong to something greater than ourselves? What is this “something” that is so great?

This week, Pope Francis is ministering to an Irish Church that has been greatly diminished. Almost 50% of Irish Catholics have left. New civil laws scoff at the precepts of the Church. Fr. Martin Coffey CP once talked to us Passionist Associates about the incredible wealth and dominance that the Church had over Irish culture and government. Yet the power led to hubris, abuse, and corruption. Many Ministers of God went the way of the pharisees in the Gospel. They forgot to act with “judgement and mercy and fidelity”. The Church was like those cups and graves that were shiny on the outside and dirty on the inside. With the news of recent weeks, we wonder if this process of diminishment has also been accelerated in our own Church in the USA.

For my part, and for millions like me, it was never the “gold of the temple” nor the gifts on the altar that captured me. It was the Living God within that temple, in that altar, that made everything “sacred.” Within the tabernacle we have those humble little pieces of Bread that hold greater power than the Vatican and all the Cathedrals put together can ever have! Yes, these “temples” are holy and we “swear” by them, but they are empty buildings without the Life that dwells in them. In the same manner, out lives as Catholics are just as empty if we don’t just relax, take a deep breath, and let Jesus fill our hearts with the power of His Love. Jesus has always been the one that calls me to “Church.” I go to mass to be with Him. Only then, can I look around and feel the greatest reverence for His people within that building. In this Monday’s Gospel Jesus goes on to tell us: “One who swears by the altar swears by it and all that is upon it ; one who swears by the temple swears by it and by Him Who dwells in it ; one who swears by heaven swears by the throne of God and by Him Who is seated on it.”

I have this great faith that we will overcome all these problems in our Church. Too much bleeding and suffering has gone into it. What gives me the right to feel this way? The loving intimacy with which Jesus Christ, my Lord, has claimed me gives me the right. He is ready to give this to everyone. How dare we approach Him when we have so much in common with those Pharisees, unreliable servants, and careless virgins? Because He died for all of us. The answer to the whole puzzle somehow lies in His Passion, Death, and Resurrection.

“Therefore, brothers [and sisters], since through the blood of Jesus we have boldness to enter into the sanctuary by the new and living way He opened for us through the veil, that is His flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a sincere heart and in absolute trust, with our herts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.” (Heb 19-22)

A few years ago someone said to me, “I don’t go to mass because I just don’t trust those priests.” I love and trust quite a lot of priests, but what I told the man was, “The priest I go to meet at mass is called Jesus Christ.” Jesus is the ultimate Power that can lead us to say : “I am a Catholic.”

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin. So let us confidently approach the throne of grace to receive mercy and to find grace for timely help.” (Heb 4:15-16)

Orlando Hernandez