Monthly Archives: January 2019

Keeping Heroes in Mind

We’re reading the Letter to the Hebrews at length these days in our liturgy at Mass. Why was this written? When and to whom was it written? Interpreters of the Letter to the Hebrews ask these questions to understand this writing better.

Obviously Hebrews is written to Jewish-Christians, some think in Rome which had a substantial Jewish-Christian population in the 1st century. It was written after a time of persecution, perhaps when the Emperor Claudius banished Jewish Christians from the city in 49 AD because they were causing riots in Rome’s synagogues in disputes over Jesus Christ. Or maybe a later persecution.

Did that  cause the followers of Jesus there to tamper down their efforts and embrace their faith less fully? Perhaps. The writer of Hebrews warns his hearers against “drawing back” and “losing confidence” in the faith they profess. Were they losing their enthusiasm? That sounds like something that happens to us too.

Keep before you the heroes of faith, beginning with Jesus, the author of Hebrews says as he draws up for them a lengthy list of inspiring believers.

“For, after just a brief moment,

he who is to come shall come;

he shall not delay.

But my just one shall live by faith,

and if he draws back I take no pleasure in him.”

 To that list of Old Testament heroes we can add the saints of the New Testament and saints of our times. They can inspire us too.

Magdala: “a place nearby”

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After a tumultuous first day of ministry in Capernaum, Jesus left the following day for others places, Mark’s Gospel says.

“Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.
Simon and those who were with him pursued him and on finding him said, ‘Everyone is looking for you.’ He told them, ‘Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.’
So he went into their synagogues, preaching and driving out demons throughout the whole of Galilee. (Mark 1,36-39)

Was one of the nearby villages Magdala?

Magdala, or Migdal, a prosperous Jewish port city in the first century. was just five miles south of Capernaum on the south-western part of the Sea of Galilee. Some of the city has been uncovered recently by archeologists and the discovery opens another window into the gospel story.
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Magdala’s economy was built on fishing and, in fact, it seems to have been the center of a highly developed industry on the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’ day. We were aware through written sources , that salted fish from Magdala was sold in the surrounding areas and even as far as Rome, but the recent findings offer another look at Magdala’s economy and the sophisticated techniques to store and prepare the lake fish for market used there. As a flourishing Jewish center on the Sea of Galilee, it was an obvious place for Jesus to visit.

The Jewish historian Josephus may be exaggerating when he says there were 40,000 people in Magdala, but certainly it had a good-sized, prosperous population in the time of Jesus. Christians see it as the home of Mary Magdalen.

The new excavations in Magdala and also in Bethsaida on the northern tip of the Sea of Galilee make us think again about the world of Jesus and what he did there. For example, a newly excavated synagogue at Magdala, the only existing synagogue from his day, offers an important visual tool for understanding Jesus’ ministry in the synagogues of Galilee on the Sabbath. Did he stand in a place like this and teach and cure? Probably.
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The recent findings also invite us to look again at Jesus’ disciples. What kind of people were Peter, Andrew, James and John, and the other Galilean fishermen whom Jesus called to follow him? They’re often described as “poor” “ignorant” fishermen, tagging along, open-mouthed, before the wonders Jesus worked and the words he spoke.

But the Galilean fishermen seem more resourceful and knowledgeable than that. They were the obvious guides to the world around the Sea of Galilee. In Mark’s Gospel the Sea of Galilee has an important symbolic role. It separated two peoples. On its western shore were mostly Jewish communities; on its eastern shores were the gentile cities of the Decapolis. Jesus first goes to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but then he crosses over to gentile world.

Who takes him to this different world but the savvy fishermen who know the places and the peoples around the sea?

The disciples were certainly not ignorant people. They’re part of the sophisticated economy of Galilee. At one point in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus tells Peter that he’s thinking like a human being when he tries to dissuade him from going to Jerusalem to face suffering and death. In fact, the disciples were quite good at human thinking, quite confident in their own opinions and thoughts. In the gospel Jesus constantly challenges their “human thinking” with the thinking of God. .

Where did he meet them? Mark’s gospel says simply it was along the Sea of Galilee. A mosaic of the call of the disciples in the new center at Magdala suggests it may have happened here. Another mosaic suggests that the raising of the daughter of Jairus, the ruler of the synagogue, may also have taken place here.
Mary Magdalene

Speculation, maybe, but the Jewish fishing villages and centers along the Sea of Galilee were where Jesus first ministered. It’s a good guess that the call of Mary Magdalene and her release from the control of seven devils took place at Magdala. There she, and surely others like her, became his disciples.

Mark’s gospel doesn’t limit the followers of Jesus to twelve. He only mentions the twelve once in his gospel. In Mark’s and Luke’s gospels, a wide range of people become followers of Jesus, from the fishermen of Galilee, tax-collectors like Matthew, to women like Mary Magdalene and Johanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Cusa. Women had a place with the twelve, Luke’s gospel says:

“Accompanying him were the Twelve and some women who had been cured of evil spirits and infirmities, Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, Joanna, the wife of Herod’s steward Chuza, Susanna, and many others who provided for them out of their resources.” (Luke 8,1-3)
Herod Antipas’ capitol, Tiberias, was only a few miles from Magdala.
Like so many ancient cities, Magdala had its good days and days of decline. It was probably destroyed during the Jewish revolt in 68 AD. Only a few places in the city were left standing when the Crusaders arrived in the 12th century, then it disappeared in the earth.

The Legionaires of Christ bought the property along the Sea of Galilee in 2004 and intended to build a 300 room hotel on the site, but in preparing the building site they uncovered the ruins of ancient Magdala. Construction stopped and the archeologists stepped in.
“For the Rev. Juan M. Solana, it was the spiritual equivalent of striking oil,” a New York Times article from May 14, 2014 said.
“When he set out to develop a resort for Christian pilgrims in Galilee, he unearthed a holy site: the presumed hometown of Mary Magdalene and an ancient synagogue where experts say Jesus may well have taught.”

Holding on to the Past

Temple

We’re reading from the Epistle to the Hebrews these days at Mass. Raymond Brown calls the work “a conundrum”  in his “Introduction to the New Testament”. Who wrote it, where and when it was written, to whom, why?  Hard to figure out.

Indications are the letter was written after the destruction of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD to Jewish-Christians, perhaps in Rome, who wanted to reconstruct the temple and renew worship there.  Martin Goodman’s “Rome and Jerusalem” (New York 2008)  offers an interesting picture of the longing Jews and Jewish Christians had afterwards to rebuild the temple and  revive its rites.

Our letter sees Christ as fulfilling the Jewish past and creating something new. Without dismissing the past, he completes it.

Do we face something like this today as our world and our church face change, drastic change?  We hang on to the past, not knowing the future and afraid of what it will bring, yet we can’t recreate what has been, something new lies before us.

The Letter to the Hebrews tells us to face the future bravely, and keep before us the One who holds the key to what is to come. Remember his struggle. It’s ours.

“Keep your eye fixed on Jesus, the leader and perfecter of faith, For the sake of the joy put before him, he endured the cross, despising the shame, and has taken his place at the right hand of the Father. Consider how he faced such opposition from sinners, in order that you may not grow weary and lose heart.”

The World Here and the World Beyond

Two worlds are described in the readings at Mass this week. The Gospel of Mark tells of the world that Jesus lived in over two thousand years ago, the world around Capernaum by the Sea of Galilee, where he called his first disciples, encountered a demon in the synagogue, cured Peter’s mother in law, the paralyzed man and the leper. (Mark 1,14-2,12) It’s a world like ours that he came to redeem.

The world described in the Letter to the Hebrews is a world beyond this one, the world of the Risen Lord. Jesus enters that world as Lord of all creation; he sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty, our creed says.

The Letter to the Hebrews describes him further as a High Priest entering a heavenly sanctuary to intercede for us. He’s a merciful High Priest, the same Jesus who entered Capernaum and cured Peter’s mother in law, the paralyzed man and the leper. He’s knows our humanity with its weakness and its yearning; he carries the wounds of suffering and death.

It’s hard to keep these two worlds in mind, but our readings, like our creed, tell us to do it. They’re not sealed off, they’re joined to each other. They have a common goal:  “Our Father, thy will done, thy kingdom come.” The Risen Jesus is present in both of these worlds. He’s Savior and Redeemer. Through him, God’s kingdom will come.

Unfortunately, some today only think of the world they see now. Others are unsure or confused about a world beyond this one.  Some see the world beyond as an escape from this life, an isolated world in the clouds. For some the world beyond is a world we make, a world without Jesus Christ and the mystery of his resurrection.

Some conclude it’s just not important to think about it. But that’s wrong. What we think about life beyond this determines how we live now. It makes a difference.

Jesus in Caphernaum

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  Near the shore of the Sea of Galilee, in Israel, one can visit the excavations of the ancient town of Capernaum. There the Franciscans have built a lovely hexagonal church over the restored ruins of a circular stone house, with the opening for its front door clearly visible. We pilgrims believe in our hearts of faith that this is the house mentioned in today’s Gospel.

      ” On leaving the synagogue Jesus entered the house of Simon and Andrew with James and John. Simon’s mother-in-law lay sick with a fever. They immediately told Him about her. He approached, grasped her hand, and helped her up. Then the fever left and she waited on them.

     ” When it was evening, after sunset, they brought to Him all who were ill or possessed by demons. The whole town was gathered at the door.” (Mk 1; 29-33).

     We believe that right at that door Jesus healed dozens, if not hundreds, of people (including the paralytic, who was lowered with ropes through the ceiling). He might also have preached the Good News of the Kingdom in front of that humble threshold.

     I cannot help but imagine my Lord residing in my own private room within my heart. I know that there, through the Eucharist or prayer, planned or unexpectedly, He continuously “grasps my hand and helps me up”. He stands at the door of my heart and encourages me to serve, to invite all those around me, in my family and community, who might need some of the hope and healing that He compels me to share. This is what I live for.

     And He asks for more: ” Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” (Mk 1; 38). With His holy companionship I am asked to reach out to those beyond the locust of my comfort zone: to the stranger, the different, the unpleasant one,the hopeless one, the one whose political ideas or interests are so different from mine.

     May He give me the strength and faith, and courage, to try and “grasp” the hand that might reject mine. He has given me so much undeserved grace and love. He has given me the eyes to “see Him”. For what “purpose” has He come to me, if not so that I may be an instrument of His peace and love?   

                                      Orlando Hernandez

He Came to Nazareth

The gospel readings this week are not just from one gospel, as they usually are. The readings this week after the Epiphany to the Baptism of the Lord ( January 7-12) are from the four gospels and each tells us that Jesus Christ, the Word Incarnate, manifested himself to all. In Psalm 2 (Monday) God says “I will give you all the nations as an inheritance.” Jesus gives himself to all.

This week each gospel points to the universal mission of Jesus already evident as he ministers to the people of his own time and place. Matthew’s gospel on Monday says he began his ministry in the “Galilee of the Gentiles.” “Great crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan followed him.” Gentiles from the Decapolis and beyond the Jordan as well as Jews were already approaching him. Matthew 4,12-17, 24-25)

In the readings from Mark’s Gospel for Tuesday and Wednesday, Jesus multiplies the loaves and the fish on the Jewish side of the Sea of Galilee and then sets out on the sea for the other side, the pagan side, to bring the blessings of these signs to them also. (Mark 6)

On Thursday and Friday, there are excerpts from Luke’s Gospel. On Friday Luke recounts the cure of the leper. The leper’s cure promises that Jesus will reach out to all the abandoned throughout the world.

On Saturday, in the reading from John, John the Baptist recognizes that Jesus “is baptizing and everyone is coming to him.” Jesus will bring the waters of life to all.

Luke’s reading for Thursday, though, is somewhat puzzling. Jesus goes to Nazareth where he was raised and is rejected, but notice Luke’s reading for that day ends before the account of his rejection: “And all spoke highly of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his mouth.” (Luke 4, 14-22)

That’s the way we would have liked Nazareth to respond to the presence of Jesus when he first came there, but the town rejected him and Jesus never returned, the gospels say.

Do our readings this week offer the promise that Jesus, as the Risen Christ entrusted with the mission to save all, always returns to the hard places and most resistant people?

That means we’re not to give up on the Nazareths of this world that seem too far gone, too faithless, to ever hear the gospel. “Lord, every nation on earth will adore you,” our psalm says.

The Light yet to Come

Christ has come, yet his glory has not yet been revealed. “For we are the children of God, and what we shall become has not yet appeared. We know that, when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”

Meanwhile, St. Augustine says,  diligently study him as he appears to us now, as a servant. Follow him in his humanity.

Until he comes, “until this comes to pass, until he gives us the sight of what will completely satisfy us, until we drink our fill of him, the fountain of life — while we wander about, apart from him but strong in faith, while we hunger and thirst for justice, longing with a desire too deep for words for the beautiful vision of God, let us fervently and devotedly celebrate the anniversary of his birth in the form of a servant.

We cannot yet contemplate the fact that he was begotten by the Father before the dawn, so let us hold on to the fact that he was born of the Virgin in the night. We do not yet understand how his name endures before the sun, so let us acknowledge his tabernacle placed in the sun.

Since we do not, as yet, gaze upon the Only Son inseparably united with His Father, let us remember the Bridegroom coming out of his bride-chamber. Since we are not yet ready for the banquet of our Father, let us acknowledge the manger of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Love Someone Near

Jesus Christ reveals the love of God and teaches us to love, Augustine says:

“You are told “Love God”. If you say to me “Show me whom I should love”, what can I say except what John says?No one has ever seen God. But you must not think yourself wholly unsuited to seeing God: God is love, says John, and whoever dwells in love dwells in God. So love whoever is nearest to you and look inside you to see where that love is coming from: thus, as far as you are capable, you will see God.
”  So start to love your neighbout. Share your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless pauper into your house. Clothe the naked, and do not despise the servants of your kin.
  “What will you get from doing all this? Your light will break forth like the dawn. Your light is your God, your dawn, because he will come to you to end the night of this world — he who, himself, neither rises nor sets but is eternal.
  “By loving your neighbour, by having care for your neighbour, you are travelling on a journey. Where are you journeying, except to the Lord God, whom we must love with all our heart and all our soul and all our mind? We have not yet reached the Lord, but our neighbour is with us already. So support your neighbour, who is travelling with you, so that you may reach him with whom you long to dwell.”

Christmas Light and Song


by Orlando Hernandez

In our home we put up this image of Mary and Jesus across from our front door. Over the door there is a window that lets in the low, December sun from the front porch. This Christmas season, on the porch light we set up a big, transparent plastic star, that we light up at night. But in the morning, as the sun’s rays are refracted by the star and enter through the window this wonderful effect is created over the picture of the Mother and Child. People have told us that it is “miraculous”, “ a sign”, “ a gift from God”. It has certainly filled me with delight and gratitude. I took it as an “omen” that this would be the best Christmas ever. It wasn’t quite so.

The artist did not seem to intend for us to smile at this picture. If you look carefully at the expressions of the Mother and Child, they look deadly serious. The Christ Child seems to be a few months old. They were probably living in Egypt at he time, migrants, refugees from the crazy violence of humanity. What do these stern looks tell us?

Around this time, on a typically bleak, rainy December morning, I walked past a car with a recently purchased “natural” Christmas tree on its roof. I was disturbed by the image. It reminded me of a dead deer tied to the roof of a hunter’s car. I thought of this lovely young fir tree, already six feet tall, full of life and potential, suddenly killed by the chain-saw, destined in a few weeks to be cast out on the curb to be picked up by the garbage truck. Then I also imagined it full of decorations and light, Christmas standards playing in the background, brightening up a home, a sign of unity, family, and most of all, a sign of our Lord Jesus Himself, born among us, bathing our lives with the Divine Light of His Message, and then crucified by us, buried in a cave, limp, wet, and lifeless.

Let’s not forget He resurrected, ascended into His Glory, and invites us to share in His Eternal Life.
I guess I was in this mood after reading the
Christmas message from Fr. Rick Frechette CP, who is also a medical doctor and, as far as I am concerned, a mystic. He has been working in Haiti for more than 20 years, starting from nothing and helping courageous Haitian citizens to heal the sick, shelter the orphans, educate the poor, help the people to sustain themselves, and very importantly, bury the dead with dignity and prayer.
Fr. Rick’s letter was titled “Christmas When Darkness Seems Darker.” He starts by quoting the poem “Anthem”, by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bell that still can ring,
Sing the song that still can sing.
There’s a crack in everything-
That’s how the light gets in.

They have such a bell in their Mission. They rescued it nine years ago from he ruins of a church after the devastating earthquake that killed some 150,000 human beings. Fr. Rick goes on to talk about the political violence that took place at the end of November of last year in the La Saline section of Port au Prince:
“We worked daily in La Saline, with the help of the Sisters of Mother Theresa, to help refugees (mostly young mothers and their children), also to recover and bury the dead, and to rescue the wounded, the old, the disabled that were not able to flee.” Fr. Rick goes on to describe the grief-stricken women rolling up the tin roofs from the ashes of their burned homes, to put them on their heads and carry them to a new home. Where?
Fr. Rick writes:
“By what deep light in their souls, did they rise from their knees to their feet in those ashes?
A light coming through the deepest cracks of broken hearts.
By what soulful music in their hearts, did they take their first steps, weeping loudly,
turning their backs to what was just yesterday their whole life,
to walk toward an unknown tomorrow?
The poem ‘Anthem’ speaks of the mighty spirit of these women,
and of the ancient Christian wisdom that the very place of death is also the very place of rising again.
The bitter place of burial is the very place of resurrection.
The crack in the earth that serves as a tomb, blasts forth the glorious light of Rising eternally.
Yes, there is a crack in everything.
That’s exactly where to be, where to serve, where to wait for the light.
It is worth the wait.”

If you want to learn more about Fr. Rick’s work in Haiti and how the organization that he started has grown so beautifully, you can go to their very elegant website: “St Luke Foundation for Haiti”. Fr. Rick’s letter is there in it’s entirety. If you have any dollars left after all this Christmas spending you certainly can help this good cause. They even offer opportunities for volunteering. Check it out.
The website is full of hope and light. The light that shines through the cracks. The light that breaks into prismatic colors, emanating from the Glory of God.

Orlando Hernandez

The Epiphany Feast Isn’t Over!

Kings Point, New York

Like the Christmas feast, we can pass over the Feast of the Epiphany too easily. It can become a quaint story of no significance.

I spoke about the meaning of the Epiphany on Sunday at the Maritime Academy in Kings Point, New York, where young men and women are being trained for service on the ships that sail our seas and waterways. This feast should mean something to them.

The only gospel that records this story is the Gospel of Matthew, so why is it there?

Matthew’s gospel was written for Jewish Christians in Galilee and Syria some time after the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70. We can’t imagine how shocked they were by the complete destruction of the temple and the city itself. These were places where God’s promises would be fulfilled, they thought. The Messiah would appear there. This was where Jesus would come again. All nations would stream to Jerusalem, prophets like Isaiah foretold. Now they were gone.

Matthew’s gospel reminds his hearers–and us too–that Jesus must be known by all nations before he comes again. “Go and make disciples of all nations,” Jesus says in his final words in Matthew’s gospel, “baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (Matthew 28, 18-20)

Matthew’s story of the Magi is a reminder that even as Jesus is born, messengers, strangers, wise men from afar, want to know and acknowledge him as their king and God.

Jesus Christ came, our gospel says, not for only one people or nation, but for all. Though his ministry was first to the Jews, Jesus wishes to make the world one. God doesn’t wish to save a few. He wants to save all– all the world.

The Magi came, our story says, from the east. Could that be from Iran or Yemen; two places we hardly view positively today in our country? More and more, as we look at the world only through the lens of politics and economics; we fear the stranger, we reject the immigrant, we create enemies, we reject people not like us. We’re becoming tribal instead of global. We’re falling into individualism. As the old song said, we’re looking for “perfect peace, where joys never cease, and let the rest of the world go by.”

But we can’t let the rest of the world go by and we won’t be safe behind walls. We’re living in a big world that God wants to be one. That’s what the story of the magi tells us. We’re all commissioned on this Feast of the Epiphany, which is followed next Sunday by the Feast of the Baptism of Jesus, to go out into the whole world, “ baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” teaching them to observe all that Jesus commands. And he will be with us, even to the end of time.

I told the young men and women at Kings Point on Sunday that they’re commissioned as people of the sea. The oceans and waterways are highways uniting this world of ours. They shouldn’t be looked at only through the eyes of economics or politics. They’re meant to connect peoples, they’re bridges that make us one.

As I left the chapel, I met some people who are “furloughed” by the current government shut-down. We don’t have to look far to see how dangerous it is to see the world only through the eyes of politics and economics. We need a brighter star.