Monthly Archives: January 2019

The Land Where Jesus Lived


Bethany, outside Jerusalem

“To what shall we compare the Kingdom of God,
or what parable can we use for it?”  ( Mark 4, 30) Jesus turned to the land he lived in to answer that question. It was a changeable land.  If you stand  on the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany near Jerusalem, as I did some years ago, you can still see olive trees growing beneath you. The Mount of Olives  just west of us.

Then, looking eastward to Jericho and the Dead Sea, it’s barren desert. Then, as you go from Jericho to Galilee the land turns from desert to lush farmland. A changing land.


Jordan Valley

Jesus experienced a changing landscape as he left Nazareth for the Jordan River and then the Sea of Galilee;  it influenced the way he spoke. His parables are rich with the language of the sower and the seed. Like us, he was influenced by the place were he lived.

In a book written in the 1930s Gustaf Dalman, an expert on the geography and environment of Palestine, observed that when Jesus went from the  highlands of Nazareth, 1,100 feet above sea level to the fishing towns along the Sea of Galilee, 680 feet below sea level, he entered a different world.

For one thing, he ate better – more fish and nuts and fruits were available than in the hill town where he grew up. He looked out at the Sea of Galilee instead of the distant hills and valleys of his mountain village. He saw a great variety of birds, like the white pelicans and black cormorants that challenged the fishermen on the lake. He saw trees and plants and flowers that grew abundantly around the lake, but not around Nazareth.

Instead of the chalky limestone of Nazareth, Jesus walked on the hard black basalt around the lake. Basalt was the building material for houses and synagogues there. It made for sturdy structures, but they were dark and drab inside. They needed light. Light on a lampstand became one of his parables. (Mark 4,21)

Basalt also made for a rich soil in which everything could grow. “… here plants shoot up more exuberantly than in the limestone district. Where there are fields, they yield a produce greater than anyone has any notion of in the highlands.” (Dalman, p123)


Farmland in Galilee

The volcanic soil on the land around the lake produced a rich harvest. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, praised that part of Galilee for its fruitfulness, its palm trees, fruit trees, walnut trees, vines, wheat. But thistles, wild mustard, wild fennel grew quickly too and could choke anything else that was sown. The land around the Sea of Galilee was fertile then; even today it has some of the best farmland in Palestine.


Soil near the Sea of Galilee

The weather in the low lying lands was not the same as in the mountains, warmer in winter, much hotter and humid in summer, which begins in May. “It is difficult for anyone used to living in the mountains to work by day and sleep by night…Out of doors one misses the refreshing breeze, which the mountains along the lake cut off…one is tempted to think that Jesus, who had settled there, must often have made occasion to escape from this pitiless climate to his beloved mountains.” (Dalman, p. 124)

These observations aren’t found in the gospels, of course, but they help us appreciate the world in which Jesus lived and the parables he drew from it. Jesus was influenced by where he lived, as we are.

And what about us? We’re experiencing climate change now, aren’t we? It’s going to influence our spirituality, how we see, how we live, how we react to the world around us.

Lord, help us appreciate the land we live in, and gain wisdom from it.

Body of Priests

By Orlando Hernandez

About 10 years ago, I was working out my new-found faith as a Christian Catholic. At a family party in Florida, the men smoking outside were having a conversation about religion. I was asking some life-long Catholics why they were no longer going to Mass. This man said, “Look at these abuse scandals. I don’t need any priest to tell me what to do, or to ‘show’ me God ! Why do you,” he asked me, “go to Mass?”

I had never read the Letter to the Hebrews. I was still working on the Gospels, but I found myself telling him, “My priest is called Jesus Christ. I go there to be with Him, that’s all. He is the one celebrating the Mass, otherwise, why the heck go?” (I did not know anything about Flannery O’Connor either.)

As some of you know, the key moment of my conversion centered around the Eucharist. I was looking at a Host, raised by the priest, and I was struck by Jesus’ invitation to follow Him. The Living God manifested Himself to me in His full splendor, power, and love. No-one can convince me otherwise. That’s why I go to Mass as often as possible. It is the best thing I do. I have met so many wonderful priests, servants of Jesus. I owe them so much, but I firmly believe that “the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath.” I believe that, in humility and fully in the power of the Holy Spirit, my priest friends have the right to say in Jesus’ name, “ This is my Body” and “This is my Blood .” But I think they would tell me in all sincerity that it is actually Jesus the High Priest, the Living God, right then and there, who is saying these words.

This is my faith. My faith in the reality of this incredible blast of joy, love, grace, light, wonderment, and so much more that I feel before the Blessed Sacrament. And again I say, this is why I go to Mass as much as possible. Try it out. You might get a BIG surprise.

For the first four weeks in Ordinary Time, we have been reading from the Letter to the Hebrews in our weekday Masses. The author of this Holy Book talks about the High Priesthood of Christ Jesus. Our Lord is compared to Melchizedek, an ancient priest who offers bread and wine, a king of Salem (saalam,shalom,peace). More importantly Jesus is presented as the ultimate, definite, Jewish High Priest, giving as offering for the final atonement for our sins, His own flesh, His own self, His life. He is the prime example for all the men who choose to completely follow Him, to give up just about everything, and go out and be His Apostles, His attendant priests in our Catholic Church.

Our Lord instituted the Eucharist not only so that we could remember and honor His saving sacrifice, but also so that He could be with us in the most intimate, physical, and spiritual way. This can only happen through the men He has chosen over the centuries, an army, a multitude of Apostles who have given the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience to Him, and have kept these vows. These men are our champions, our examples, teachers, and bringers of Christ. To do this they gave themselves in a way similar to what it says in Hebrews 10: 5-7 :
“Sacrifice and offeringsYou did not desire but a body You prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You took no delight. Then I said, as is written of me in the scroll, Behold, I come to do your will, O God.”

I believe it is this total, humble, selfless surrender to the will of God that gives our Catholic priests the right to celebrate the Eucharist in all Its power and holiness. At the same time, we lay people are not left off that easily. Our Lord suffered His Passion so that we too can approach the Holy of Holiest like those ancient priests. The Temple of His Holy Spirit is now in our hearts. We can find Him there. Do we dare? In our baptism we have been saved, but we have each been declared “priest, prophet, and king/queen”, servants of His Kingdom. Boy, do I feel unworthy of these gifts! But I am not about to reject the gifts of the One I love. No way. I want to please Him. I want to be with Him, and in Him, and He in me. Therefore, to prayer, surrender, and work!

“Brothers and Sisters: Since through the Blood of Jesus we have confidence of entrance 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 hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water. Let us hold unwaveringly to our confession that gives us hope, for He who made the promise is trustworthy. We must consider how to rouse one another to love and good works. We should not stay away from our assembly, as is the custom of some, but encourage one another, and this all the more as you see the day drawing near.” (Hebrews 10: 19-25)

Oh Great High Priest! Guide your Church in the path of righteousness and love. Strengthen us with your Presence. Help us show You to the world. Keep us united in your Mercy. Bring back your children who have strayed. Help us to be instruments of your Good. In gratitude we lift our eyes to You. Amen.

Orlando Hernández

January 28-February 3rd

The feast of the Presentation of Jesus in the Temple, one of the last events in Luke’s Infancy Narrative, is celebrated this week on February 2nd. It’s also called Candelmass Day because candles are blessed this day. Candles bring light to the house, Jesus Christ brought light to Simeon and Anna, waiting in the temple representing all who wait for the light that is Christ.

Two saints, Thomas Aquinas and John Bosco, are remembered this week.They couldn’t be more humanly unlike. Thomas Aquinas, a thinker, John Bosco, a doer. Bless them all.

The readings this week show two worlds. Mark’s Gospel takes us to the Sea of Galilee, as Jesus heals and teaches and meets opposition from the scribes and Pharisees. The Letter to the Hebrews tells us to lift our eyes to heaven. Another world awaits us.

JANUARY 28 Mon Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Memorial Pss III
Heb 9:15, 24-28/Mk 3:22-30 (317)

29 Tue Weekday
Heb 10:1-10/Mk 3:31-35 (318)

30 Wed Weekday
Heb 10:11-18/Mk 4:1-20 (319)

31 Thu Saint John Bosco, Priest
Heb 10:19-25/Mk 4:21-25 (320)

FEBRUARY 1 Fri Weekday
Heb 10:32-39/Mk 4:26-34 (321)

2 Sat The Presentation of the Lord
Mal 3:1-4/Heb 2:14-18/Lk 2:22-40 or 2:22-32 (524)

Jer 1:4-5, 17-19/1 Cor 12:31—13:13 or 13:4-13/Lk 4:21-30 (72)

Timothy and Titus

Timothy and Titus were companions of St.Paul on his missionary journeys and they continued his mission. Timothy was given leadership of the church at Ephesus; Titus assumed leadership of the church in Crete. We have Paul’s letters to them: one letter to Titus and two letters to Timothy, most likely written from house arrest in Rome.

Like Jesus, Paul never saw himself acting alone or handing on a church that was completely developed. It was a church in transition. That’s why we celebrate the feast of Timothy and Titus on January 26th, the day after the feast of Paul’s conversion. He saw others continuing his work.

The church given into the care of Timothy and Titus would enter a new stage in its growth. Paul and the other apostles were completing their work; now roles of bishops, priests and other ministries began to evolve. The notes in the New American Bible–always worth reading–point to the changing nature of these offices as Timothy and Titus take on the work of Paul, in prison in Rome.

Paul’s advice to Timothy is especially interesting. “Stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands. For God did not give us a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self-control. So do not be ashamed of your testimony to our Lord, nor of me, a prisoner for his sake; but bear your share of hardship for the Gospel with the strength that comes from God.”

Sounds like Paul is trying to bolster Timothy’s confidence, who is losing his powerful mentor. I also like Paul’s reference in that same letter to Timothy’s mother Eunice and his grandmother Lois. Powerful mentors Timothy also should remember.

Timothy and Titus were given “apostolic virtues” by God to continue the work of Paul and the other apostles, the opening prayer of their feast says. And “May we merit to reach our heavenly homeland” by “living justly and devoutly in this present age.” Like them “we” also are given a task –to work for the church’s growth and development in this present age.

We have to remember our mentors and remember too that God “ does not give a spirit of cowardice, but rather of power and love and self control.” Like the two followers of Paul, we have to hold on to what we were given, but it’s our turn to continue their work: “Go into all the world, and proclaim the gospel. I am with you always, says the Lord.”

I see in the notes of American Bible that the deacons Paul refers to in I Timothy 3, 8-13 may include women as well as men. “This (deacons) seems to refer to women deacons, but may possibly mean the wives of deacons. The former is preferred because the word is used absolutely…”

Why not today? We need women in roles of leadership. I have some in mind who would fit the role very well. I wonder what my mother would say.

The Conversion of St. Paul

January 25th is the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul. It came in a blinding moment, so different than the call of Jesus’ other apostles.

Caravaggio’s dramatic painting of Paul on the flat of his back, arms outstretched, helplessly blind is a vivid picture of humanity before God.

Conversion is God’s work; God alone gives the gift of faith.

The first reading for his feast tell the dramatic story of his conversion. (Acts 22, 3-16)  In the gospel of Matthew,Jesus announces why he was called – to preach the gospel to all nations.(Matthew 16,15-18)

“May the Spirit fill us with that light of faith.”

For St. John Chrysostom  “Paul, more than anyone else, has shown us what we really are, and in what our nobility consists, and of what virtue a human being is capable. Each day he aimed ever higher; each day he rose up with greater ardour and faced with new eagerness the dangers that threatened him. He summed up his attitude in the words: I forget what is behind me and push on to what lies ahead.

“When he saw death imminent, he bade others share his joy: Rejoice and be glad with me! And when danger, injustice and abuse threatened, he said: I am content with weakness, mistreatment and persecution. These he called the weapons of righteousness, thus telling us that he derived immense profit from them…

The most important thing of all to Paul was that he knew himself to be loved by Christ.”

May God give us that grace .

Today ends the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

May God give us all that grace.

Extra Ordinary

by Orlando Hernandez

Since January 14 we have been observing “Ordinary Time” in our Liturgy. Fr. Victor Hoagland has been pointing out how most of our Church year takes place in this Ordinary Time, and how this reflects the reality of our lives. Our hours, months, and years are mostly made up of ordinary things and activities. We eat, sleep, get up, brush our teeth, work, interact with those nearest to us, and live in those challenges and blessings that they bring to us. We drive past the same stores and barely see the same winter trees along the way. We wear and wash the same clothes. We each have our own routines.

Fr. Victor tells us that it is especially in those moments that the Presence of the Beloved can be found. In an almost “Buddhist” way, he advises us to be mindful of all the experiences we have, no matter how simple or common. There is great Beauty and Light there.

I have been trying. I see a new loveliness in those bare trees, reaching up to heaven. I am suddenly struck by the flavor of morning cereal. At home, I have been picking up different objects that I walk past every day. I feel them in my hands and actually discover things about them: the material they are made of, a craft-person’s signature, a chip or break (when did it happen?). I remind myself of why I have kept these objects around in the first place. They each hold a blessed, special memory of someone I regard, or love.

Suddenly, these objects become luminous with feeling and meaning, leading me to realize that there’s even more to life than just what is there in front of me. My faith is stirred. I feel the presence of my Creator and Savior in a surprising, and yet familiar way. I hope that you have all experienced something like this at some point during your day or week. We are so loved by this good, wonderful God.

The simple, insipid water that occupies our earthen vessels can be unexpectedly changed into the finest wine by realizing that the Holy Spirit of our Creator is here within and around us. We believe, and for a moment experience this “life to the fullest” that our Lord desires for all of us. It can be so easy. All we have to do is think and say, “Jesus!”. He is the vehicle to this life of adventure and wonder. He is why this “Ordinary Time” can be so special to me.

Our Gospel readings once again begin to relate His story to us. Each weekday we again hear about the deeds of our Lord in the action-filled Gospel of Mark. On Sundays we also continue with His story. I suppose we could say, “here we go again, the same old stories all over.” It is strange, but I really never get sick of hearing them. I know some of these Gospels nearly word for word, and still I find something new, or even better, I re-discover something I had lost. Like a child, I am hungry to hear the same tale again and again!

I have written before about my seven-year old granddaughter, how my relationship with her has given Our Heavenly Father a chance to teach me how much He loves us, His children. For a few years now she has driven me crazy by having me read to her the same children’s book again and again. I try to convince her to try out a different story, but no way! She insists on this slightly worn book. Children lose many things, but this one is still around. I tell her that she knows how to read now, so she can read it to me. Well, not this book, I have to read it. As I read, she goes through the same actions she would undertake as a toddler, pushing a dot on a page so that it will change color on the next, shaking the book, counting the dots, answering questions.

I realize this is a ritual that she loves to share with me. Suddenly, in the middle of this “ordinary” activity the extra-ordinary happens; the Light of our amazing, loving God shines all around. I get an insight into the reason for my love of the Liturgy of the Mass. I experience such happiness. Why does He love us like this?

I realize why I love to hear the Gospel stories again and again. This is because it is my Heavenly Papa who is holding me in His arms while He reads them to me.

Orlando Hernández