Monthly Archives: August 2018

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.

 

 

 

 

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

21st Week of the Year, b


August 26 SUNDAY TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Jos 24:1-2a, 15-17, 18b/Eph 5:21-32 or 5:2a, 25-32/Jn 6:60-69 (122)

27 Monday Saint Monica
Memorial
2 Thes 1:1-5, 11-12/Mt 23:13-22 (425)

28 Tuesday Saint Augustine, Bishop and Doctor of the Church
Memorial
2 Thes 2:1-3a, 14-17/Mt 23:23-26 (426)

29 Wednesday The Passion of Saint John the Baptist
Memorial
2 Thes 3:6-10, 16-18 (427)/Mk 6:17-29 (634)

30 Thursday
1 Cor 1:1-9/Mt 24:42-51 (428)

31 Friday
1 Cor 1:17-25/Mt 25:1-13 (429)

SEPTEMBER 1 Saturday
[BVM]
1 Cor 1:26-31/Mt 25:14-30 (430)

Bartholomew, the Apostle

 

 

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Cana today

August 24th is the feast of the apostle Bartholomew, also identified as Nathaniel,  from Cana in Galilee, only a few miles from Nazareth.  Cana, like Nazareth, attracted little interest in Jesus’ time, yet it played  a major role in Jesus’ early life and  mission.

In John’s gospel,  Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana, his first “sign” that God’s kingdom would come. (Jn 2, 1-12) The family faced a wedding nightmare: the wine was running out and embarrassment was sure to come.

Catholic Church, Cana

Catholic Church, Cana

Was the family related to Jesus? Or Bartholomew?  At least they were close. Why else would Jesus, his mother and his disciples be at the celebration?cana carol rothstein 7

The miracle was special,. More than relieving one family’s embarrassment, John’s gospel sees it as a sign of God’s great love for ordinary people in ordinary towns everywhere. God delights in them, says the Prophet Isaiah, whose words are often used to accompany the Cana miracle,  Cana signifies poor Israel, whom God loves with all the ardor of a “young man marrying a virgin,” God’s love, bountiful, restoring, overflowing with delight, touches this poor place, as well as poor places everywhere.

Jesus performed two miracles at Cana, John’s gospel says, two “signs” of the coming kingdom. Besides the miracle at the wedding, Jesus cured the dying son of a government official from Capernaum, whose ” father came to Cana because he heard that Jesus was there. (John 4.46-54) Jesus saved his son from death.

cana carol rothstein

Through the centuries Cana hasn’t prospered. It’s not much to look at today.  In the late 19th century, a visiting English vicar described its poverty:

“ (Kefr Kenna) lies on high ground, but not on a hill…A broad prickly pear led to the group of houses which perhaps represents the New Testament Cana. Loose stones were scattered around the slope. There may be, possibly, 150 inhabitants, but one cannot envy them their huts of mud and stone, with dunghills at every corner. Huge mud ovens, like great beehives, stood at the sides of some of the houses.

“ In one house a worthy Moslem was squatting on the ground with a number of children, all with slates on which verses of the Koran had been written, which they repeated together. It was the village school, perhaps like that at Nazareth eighteen hundred years ago.

“ A small Franciscan church of white stone with a nice railed wall, with a beautiful garden at the side, had over its doorway these startling words in Latin: ‘Here Jesus Christ from water made wine.’ Some large water jars are shown inside as actually those used in the miracle, but such mock relics, however believed in by simple monks, do the faith of other people more harm than good.”

Cana’s still a poor town. Is it waiting for the time when all the poor places of the world are raised up to share in the splendor of the heavenly Jerusalem. God loves poor places like this, the Cana miracle says. Bartholomew came from there.

cana carol rothstein 11

Church of St. Bartholomew, Cana

 

Listen to Ezechiel

The Prophet Ezechiel, Rubens

We usually look to the gospels or other parts of the New Testament in our lectionary for wisdom day by day. The Old Testament readings don’t seem as relevant as the New; the words themselves– “old,” “new”– suggest that.

The Fathers of the Church, though, preached a lot from the Old Testament and reflected on it more often than we do. For one thing, they saw in the Old Testament an image of the church. We need to reflect on our poor church these days.

In today’s gospel reading (Matthew 19,23-30) Jesus says that the rich will find it hard to enter the kingdom of heaven. Who does he tell that to? To his disciples with Peter as their spokesman.

During his ministry Jesus was cautious about saying anything the Romans and those occupying Palestine might see as meant for them. He’s careful about social or political statements that could end his ministry quickly. Look what happened to John the Baptist.

The Prophet Ezechiel (Ez. 28,1-10) in our Old Testament reading today, however, isn’t afraid to criticize the rich and powerful of his time. Even as he faces the dark world of his own people, he inveighs against the Prince of Tyre, a small Phoenician kingdom entrenched along the Mediterranean Sea, where Lebanon is today. Smart traders and skillful politicians, they saw themselves as a model society for that part of the world.

Did the Jewish ruling class, in exile in Babylon, see Tyre as a model for rebuilding Jerusalem? Ezechiel sees too much of Tyre’s unjust ways and arrogance to buy into becoming a nation like them.

Even when your own world is dark, don’t lose your voice for criticizing social issues affecting others, Ezechiel seems to say. While you struggle with your own sins and failures, keep struggling to promote a just society throughout the world. God’s call is to work for its good.

In this “moral catastrophe” we’re in as a church today because of child abuse, I hope we and our episcopal leadership, facing our failures, won’t abandon other areas of social justice, like immigration and poverty.

Listen to Ezechiel.