Monthly Archives: October 2018

Letter to the Ephesians

It’s always surprising to see how the scriptures offer light to see. Last Saturday at our general chapter in Rome we were discussing the difficulties we have today living in community with others, praying together, working together. So many things get in the way and divide us. It’s easy to surrender and think nothing can be done. We’re going nowhere.

The Letter to the Ephesians, read this week at Mass, says that’s not so. It was written, not to one church at Ephesus, but to the church worldwide, commentators says. It describes a great plan of God at work from “the foundation of the world,” a plan for the “fulness of time,” a “mystery made known to us” in Christ Jesus, our Lord.

We have this “word of truth” this gospel of our salvation, from Jesus himself. The Spirit he promised is the “first installment of our inheritance.”

“First installment,” That’s what we working with now, but it gets us where we want to go.

And it promises more. “May the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation resulting in knowledge of him. May the eyes of [your] hearts be enlightened, that you may know what is the hope that belongs to his call, what are the riches of glory in his inheritance among the holy ones, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power for us who believe, in accord with the exercise of his great might, which he worked in Christ, raising him from the dead and seating him at his right hand in the heavens, (Ephesians 1)

Last Saturday afternoon, we had reports of new missions in China and Myramar. “Mustard seeds” but that’s how the mystery of God unfolds, Jesus says.

Every Monday of the four week cycle of the Liturgy of the Hours we read Ephesians 1, 3-10 at evening prayer, a reminder to see the day, however small and confusing it may be, as part of the great unfolding plan of God in Christ, our Lord.

29th Week of the Year b

Is 53:10-11/Heb 4:14-16/Mk 10:35-45 or 10:42-45 (146)

22 Monday
[Saint John Paul II, Pope]
Eph 2:1-10/Lk 12:13-21 (473)

23 Tuesday
[Saint John of Capistrano, Priest]
Eph 2:12-22/Lk 12:35-38 (474)

24 Wednesday
[Saint Anthony Mary Claret, Bishop]
Eph 3:2-12/Lk 12:39-48 (475)

25 Thursday
Eph 3:14-21/Lk 12:49-53 (476)

26 Friday
Eph 4:1-6/Lk 12:54-59 (477)

27 Saturday
Eph 4:7-16/Lk 13:1-9 (478)

North American Martyrs


The North American Martyrs, eight Jesuits and their associates were killed by warring Indian tribes in the 17th century. They’re the first saints of North America and we celebrate their feast October 19th.. I’ve visited Auriesville in New York State and the Midlands in Canada where they were martyred; in both places their heroic faith and bravery are remembered.

The missionaries came to the New World expecting a new Pentecost among the native peoples of this land, but it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, disease and political maneuvering made the native peoples suspicious of the foreigners and the seed of the gospel seemed to fall on hard ground. The martyrdom of the eight Jesuits witnesses that resistance.

Letters back to France from the early Jesuits–marvelously preserved in “The Jesuit Relations”–often express the missionaries’ disappointment  over their scarce harvest, but it didn’t stop them. They were well grounded in the mystery of the Cross.

Not far from Auriesville, near Fonda, NY, is the Indian village called Caughnawaga.  In the spring of 1675, after the Jesuits were killed in Auriesville in 1646, Father Jacques de Lamberville visited Caughnawaga . The priest entered a lodge where a young Indian girl Kateri Tekakwitha was alone because a foot injury prevented her from working in the fields. She spoke to him of her desire to receive baptism and on Easter, 1676, the young Indian girl was baptized and took the name Kateri, after St. Catherine of Siena, the mystic and a favorite patron of Christian Indian women. She was 20 years old.

Her uncle and relatives in the long house opposed her conversion to Christianity and pressured her to marry and follow their ways. The early Jesuits considered it a miracle that Kateri resisted  family and tribal pressure.  Her early biographer says “She practiced her faith without losing her original fervor and her extraordinary virtue was seen by all. The Christians saw her obeying their rules exactly, going to prayers everyday in the morning and evening and Mass on Sunday. At the same time she avoided the dreams feasts and the dances,” practices endangering her belief.  (The Life of the Good Catherine Tekakwitha, Claude Chauchetiere, SJ , 1695)

Father de Lamberville finally recommended that Kateri escape to the newly-established  Indian Christian village in Kahnawake near Montreal, where she could live her faith freely.  In 1676, aided by other Christian Indians, she made the dangerous journey northward. There she lived a fervent life of prayer and faith;  she died and was buried on April 17th, 1680.

Kateri was canonized  October 21th in Rome by Pope Benedict XVI. “The blood of martyrs is the seed of Christians.” (Tertullian)

St. Paul of the Cross


October 20th, we celebrate the feast of  St. Paul of the Cross in the United States.

A saint leaves a legacy, a blessing for the church and especially for members of communities he founded or inspired. What legacy did the saintly founder of the Passionists leave?

Paul of the Cross died October 18, 1775, a year before our American Revolution and fourteen years before the French Revolution. Twenty three years after his death, the French revolution spilled over into neighboring Italy and the Papal States. Napoleon imprisoned the pope, Pope Pius VI, religious houses and church resources were taken over by French forces; the Catholic Church in Italy, like the Catholic Church in France, was seemingly crushed by the French general and his powerful army.

In May of 1810 the situation got worse. Napoleon declared an end to the Papal States and ordered the new pope Pius VII to be imprisoned in Savona, Italy. His police led thousands of religious from their religious houses back to their homes and told to start another life. Among them were 242 Passionists, the community Paul of the Cross founded in the previous century.

The old church was dead, the emperor said. He would replace it by a new one of his own. In that thinking, the Passionists too were dead; they would hardly have a role in Napoleon’s church. Of course, the church didn’t die and neither did the Passionists.

Historians usually credit the brilliant diplomacy of Cardinal Consalvi, the pope’s secretary of state, for keeping the church alive and getting it on its feet again after Napoleon’s defeat in 1814. But diplomats weren’t the only ones responsible for the church’s restoration. Most of the credit belonged to ordinary believers who kept the faith and remained loyal.

The same was true for the Passionists. We certainly gave the church an inspirational figure at the time, St. Vincent Strambi, the Passionist bishop and first biographer of Paul of the Cross. Before Napoleon’s troops invaded Rome in 1798 Pius VI asked Vincent to preach in the city’s four major basilicas to strengthen the Roman people. After Napoleon’s defeat, Pius VII called Strambi to Rome again to preach a 9 day retreat of reconciliation–not everybody stood up to the French invaders.

But besides Strambi, what kept the Passionists alive were certainly those ordinary religious who were driven from their monasteries and came back to continue the work that St. Paul of the Cross envisioned a century before. They were the faithful ones, faithful to what they learned from him.

Paul of the Cross not only preached the mystery of the Passion of Jesus; he lived it. He held on to his dreams through hard times. Humanly speaking, the Passionists, the community he founded, should have gone out of existence many times, from its tenuous beginnings to the years it waited for acceptance by the church. The mystery of the Cross was present in its birth, its growth and its life.

Now as then, the Passion of Jesus brings life, not death.

Today’s Saints

I was in St. Peter’s square yesterday when Pope Francis canonized five saints, two of them well known, Paul VI, who was pope as the Second Vatican Council ended and Archbishop Romero of San Salvador who was shot to death while celebrating Mass at the Hospital of Divine Providence on March 24, 1980.

Pope Francis, a believer in symbols, wore the blood stained cincture that Bishop Romero wore when he was shot and celebrated the Mass with Paul VI’s favorite chalice and carried the pastoral cross he carried on his pastoral journeys.

The square was filled on this bright sunny day, the crowd spilling over to the neighboring streets. You can see more here.

I remembered in the square yesterday Blanca and Julio who lived in El Salvador at the time the archbishop was murdered and revere him as a holy man and so I took some pictures of the many who came from their country to honor Romero as a national and even an international hero who spoke for the justice for the poor. Blue was everywhere.

I’m sure Pope Francis was delighted to canonize Romero. We need bishops like him.

And what about those saints canonized yesterday not so well known? The pope said in his homily that holiness takes different forms. The saints not well known are just as important and those that are. That’s true.

28th Week of the Year. b


Wis 7:7-11/Heb 4:12-13/Mk 10:17-30 or 10:17-27 (143) 

15 Monday Saint Teresa of Jesus, Virgin and Doctor of the Church 


Gal 4:22-24, 26-27, 31—5:1/Lk 11:29-32 (467) 

16 Tuesday

[Saint Hedwig, Religious; Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque, Virgin] 

Gal 5:1-6/Lk 11:37-41 (468) 38 

17 Wednesday Saint Ignatius of Antioch, Bishop and Martyr 


Gal 5:18-25/Lk 11:42-46 (469) 

18 Thursday Saint Luke, Evangelist 


2 Tm 4:10-17b/Lk 10:1-9 (661) 

19 Friday USA: Saints John de Brébeuf and Isaac Jogues, Priests, and Companions, Martyrs 


Eph 1:11-14/Lk 12:1-7 (471) 

20 Saturday

[USA: Saint Paul of the Cross, Priest; BVM] 

Eph 1:15-23/Lk 12:8-12 (472)

The Unclean Spirit

These days I am attending the general chapter of my community, the Passionists, in Rome. We come from all over the world and we are trying to find our way into the future. We live in a messy world, obvious in our discussion and attempts to find our way.

Today’s gospel from Luke talks about the “unclean spirit” who roams through the world looking for a place to take over. I’m reminded of a wonderful commentary on Mark’s gospel by John R. Donahue, SJ, and Daniel Harrington, SJ.

“In this context ‘unclean’ (akatharton) primarily connotes not a moral (even less a sexual) fault), but something opposed to the “holy.” In the command of the Old Testament to be holy (Leviticus 11,44) it implies life, wholeness and completeness,( Leviticus 21, 17-21) whereas uncleanness implies something that should not be, something out of place ( e.g. soil in a farmer’s field is productive, while in a house it’s dirt). The opposite of the realm of the holy is the demonic, hence the spirits there are “unclean”. Physical defects or psychological aberrations can make a person “unclean”in a sense of incomplete, imperfect and out of order.”(The Gospel of Mark, Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 2002 page 80.)

Jesus did not engage primarily the intellectual establishment or the religious establishment when he came. He engaged the chaotic world of the “unclean spirits.” He set up a “field hospital” to use a phrase dear to Pope Francis. That’s the messy, scary world we live in.

Just think of the poor man in the tombs in Mark’s gospel, chained and hurting himself. Who wants to deal with him? But Jesus gives his disciples “authority” over unclean spirits. His followers have the power to take them on, to deal with the “messy” world they belong to.

And when they’re done? They’re never done.

And so I go to our meeting this morning.

“My Joe, with the Pope.”

fol pope

October 11th is the feast day of Saint John XXIII,

In the fall of 1962, when I was studying in Rome. Bishop Quentin Olwell, a Passionist from Brooklyn, was made bishop of Cotabato in the Philippines and was visiting Pope John XXIII on his first “ad limina” visit.

Fr. Theodore Foley, then assistant to the Passionist superior general, came to my room and said. “Get a briefcase; we’re going over to the Vatican. We’ll be Bishop Olwell’s secretaries for the day. Sometime they let you in to see the pope.”

And that’s what happened. At the end of the bishop’s visit, they invited us into the pope’s library. He received the bishop’s “secretaries” quite genially, we shook his hands and got our picture taken with him.

I remember he asked me where I was from. I told him the United States. Then he said to me “Be like St. Gabriel,” a young Italian Passionist student who died at 24, close to my age then.

Pope John was named Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” that year, I think, but my mother, who always carried this picture in her purse and would show it to anyone she could, would say; “This is my Joe, with the pope.”

Today, I am in Rome again, at the 47th General Chapter of my community, and during this time we will be visiting Pope Francis at the Vatican. What will he say to us? Pope John, now Saint John XXIII, inspired the Second Vatican Council, which is still “in session”, in my opinion. A revolutionary event that’ s still unfolding.

I hope it will unfold in the meeting I’m part of these days.

Pope Francis (Sketch by Duk Soon)