Monthly Archives: February 2019

Kingdom of the Unworthy

by Orlando Hernandez

The three readings for the 5th Sunday in Ordinary Time deal with unlikely persons recruited by God to aid Him in His work of salvation. Isaiah feels doomed before the sight of God because he is “a man of unclean lips.” (Is 6: 5) Saint Paul says that he is “not fit to be called an apostle.” (1 Cor 15:9) Simon Peter kneels in the boat, full of fish, before Jesus, and says, “Depart from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.” (Lk 5: 8b)
God will have none of this breast-beating. He touches Isaiah with the burning heat of the Spirit of Love and “asks” him, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for us?” Isaiah cannot help but exclaim, “Here I am….. Send me!” (Is 6: 8) After having personally met Jesus, Paul has to admit that in spite of his former guilt, “ by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me has not been ineffective.”(1 Cor 15: 10) So he toils for the rest of his life as a great apostle of God. Peter does not get a break either. Jesus tells him, “ Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching men.”
(Lk 5: 10b) No time for feeling guilty, Simon Peter, Andrew, John, and James “left everything and followed Him.” (V: 11b)
This week’s Gospels from Mark also deal with “unworthy” people who are touched by Jesus. People who might be blamed for their illnesses because of their sins are brought by others to the marketplace, “and as many as He touched were healed.” (Mk 6: 56a) Then Jesus defends disciples who “ate their meals with unclean, that is, unwashed hands.” (Mk 7: 5) In spite of the Syrophoenician woman being an “unclean” gentile, “ a dog”, Jesus the Jew is impressed by her loving perseverance and heals her daughter. (Mk 7: 24-30) When He returns to the gentile Decapolis He heals the deaf man, through physical contact and intimacy. (Mk 6: 33-36) It is important for me to notice that just like the people in the marketplace, the deaf man had been “ brought to Him” by people interceding for him, just like the Syrophoenician woman for her daughter. Perhaps Jesus had been recommended to these folks by the Gerasene man who was cured of those cruel demons. Jesus had told him, “Go home to your family and announce to them all that the Lord [our Loving Father] in His pity has done for you.” (Mk 5: 19)
Do we do this? Do we proclaim to all we meet what Jesus has done for us? Or are we too embarrassed ? Do we show it? Do we live as examples of the Gospel? Do we pray for, and touch, and attend to anyone who comes to us in need of God’s help, the way those folks in the Gospel do? I feel pretty sure that most of the people reading this try to live this kind of life, and I rejoice in this. It gives me the strength to try harder.
This weekend I attended a conference titled “Release the Spirit!” This wonderful speaker, Bob, exhorted us to stop beating our breasts and saying “I am not worthy.” Indeed, we are not, but our Lord has died on the Cross so that we may approach His throne in confidence that His Holy Spirit will be poured upon us, to burn within our hearts and heal us. Let’s be renewed by this great Gift, through heartfelt, humble prayer every day, not feeling as much entitled, as feeling so, so grateful for His mercy. But let’s not keep the fire, the grace, the miracle there hiding. Let’s release that Spirit of Love upon the world, especially on those lying prostrate in the marketplaces of our culture, those unclean, unworthy ones, the people in “ the fringes” that Pope Francis talks about. Let us Catholics be open to everyone, welcoming them warmly into our lives, into our churches, like the Evangelicals do. Let us, like our Pope, open our hearts in respect and dialogue with people of all faiths.
Last month in Church we heard passages from the Letter to the Hebrews, my beloved book of the Bible. One of my favorite passages was not included, (Hebrews 13:1-3, 11-16):

“ Let mutual love continue. Do not neglect hospitality, for through it some have unknowingly entertained angels. Be mindful of prisoners as if sharing their imprisonment and of the ill-treated as of yourself, for you also are in the body….. The bodies of the animals whose blood the high priest brings into the sanctuary as a sin offering are burned outside the camp. Therefore, Jesus also suffered outside the gate, to consecrate the people by His own blood. Let us then go to Him outside the camp, bearing the reproach that He bore. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the one that is to come. Through Him then let us continually offer God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of lips that confess His name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have; God is pleased by sacrifices of that kind.”

Praised be the Name of Jesus!

Orlando Hernández

We’re Not Statistics

healing crowds

Rembrandt, 

 Jesus’ initial ministry in Galilee, starting with his miracles in Capernaum, brought excited crowds to him looking for healing for themselves or those with them. Wherever he went, whether in Jewish or Gentile territory, crowds came to him.

In today’s gospel, the deaf man brought to him isn’t identified as either Jew or gentile. He’s just deaf and can’t speak. He has no name. What’s significant about this miracle is the way Jesus heals him. “He took him off by himself away from the crowd.” (Mark 7,33)

Jesus takes the man aside privately, he meets him personally, face to face– and is deeply touched– “groans”–at the deaf man’s plight. He touches the man, putting his finger in his ears and his spittle on his tongue. When the deaf man speaks, Jesus says to him and his friends not to tell anyone. One reason may be that Jesus doesn’t want to be typed simply as a healer. But they went and proclaimed it anyway.

Still, why did he take him off “by himself away from the crowd?” A reminder that God does not look on us as a crowd, but knows each of us? We’re not statistics, part of a list. God meets each of us face to face.

And that’s a reminder to treat others that way too. Each has a face of their own and a story that’s unique. That’s hard to do. It’s easier to deal with people as statistics, numbers, people next in line.

For Jesus people were not statistics, one of a crowd, next in line. That’s not God’s way.

The Fall

Humanity falls in our reading from Genesis today. (Genesis 3, 1-8)

“Now the serpent was the most cunning of all the animals
that the LORD God had made.
The serpent asked the woman,
‘Did God really tell you not to eat
from any of the trees in the garden?’”

Adam and Eve, given life, are instructed by God about the forbidden tree in the garden. (above) Behind them stands the Tree of Life, mentioned only once in the Genesis account. Did they forget to eat enough of that tree?

A serpent, “the most cunning of all the animals,” initiates their fall. The authors of Genesis do not want to give equal power to the Evil One. Satan’s not God’s equal. So a serpent brings down humanity. Satan’s there, but other things as well.

In Mark’s gospel Jesus says to Peter, who wishes to change Jesus’ acceptance of his Father’s will: “Get behind me Satan; you’re not thinking like God, but like human beings do.” Peter’s speaking for Satan, but he’s speaking “reasonably” like human beings do.

In the Book of Job, Satan tempts Job, not directly, but through his friends, who also speak the way human beings do, “with a serpent’s tongue.”

The serpent, “the most cunning of all the animals,” represents the wisdom of a world that challenges God, the Creator. “Did God really tell you not to eat from any of the trees in the garden?” he asks the woman, demeaning God.

Some see eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil as a decision for moral autonomy made by humans, a claim to know it all, to say what’s right or wrong, rejecting the limits and finite freedom they have as creatures of God.

It can also be seen as trusting only in the experience and knowledge we gain as we live– like children distancing themselves from parents. We’re meant to grow in self-sufficiency and wisdom of our own, but without distancing ourselves from the God of wisdom and life who created us and wishes us always to be his children.

Two things to remember:

The Book of Genesis and other books of the Bible, never see the world – or us –belonging to Satan. God is king, always present, master of this world as the days go on, day and night, in light and darkness. The plans of his heart stand from age to age. The serpent doesn’t win.

Tomorrow’s reading ends promising a return to the land we lost and the Tree of Life. God is merciful.

We’re Not Alone

genesis man alone copy 2
The LORD God said:
“It is not good for the man to be alone.
I will make a suitable partner for him.”
(Genesis 2,18)

We usually rush on when we hear these words to the creation of Eve, who becomes “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” for Adam, and the human story begins.

But the Genesis account  we read today and a medieval artist (above) remind us that God first “formed out the ground various wild animals and various birds of the air, and he brought them to the man… but none proved to be the suitable partner for the man.” (Genesis 2,19 ff)

Adam signals to God these new creatures are not enough, but does he dismiss them altogether for Eve? Whether they realize it or not, the two will not be alone on this planet. Besides caring for each other, their destiny is to care for the creatures Adam names. They’re their partners too and share this common home.

Water

Mary Garden, Passionist Monastery, Jamaica, New York

Today’s reading from Genesis begins the second creation account (Genesis 2,4..) which pays particular attention to the creation of human beings. But it begins with water, welling up from the earth bringing life to the earth and finally the human family. Water is at the heart of the garden God provides for Adam and Eve. We have a fountain in the center of our Mary Garden signifying water’s vital role in the garden that was Eden and in the world we live in today.
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Pope Francis speaks repeatedly of the role of water in our common home of creation and our need to care for it. Here are some of his reflections from last year’s World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. Notice his strong objection to attempts to privatize water by commercial groups.

“On this World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, which the Catholic Church for several years now has celebrated in union with our Orthodox brothers and sisters and with participation of other Churches and Christian communities, I would like to draw attention to the question of water. It is a very simple and precious element, yet access to it is, sadly, for many people difficult if not impossible. Nonetheless, “access to safe drinkable water is a basic and universal human right, since it is essential to human survival and, as such, is a condition for the exercise of other human rights. Our world owes a great social debt towards the poor who lack access to drinking water, because they are denied the right to a life consistent with their inalienable dignity” (ibid., 30).
Water invites us to reflect on our origins. The human body is mostly composed of water, and many civilizations throughout history arose near great rivers that marked their identity. In an evocative image, the beginning of the book of Genesis states that, in the beginning, the spirit of the Creator “swept over the face of the waters (1:2)”.
In considering the fundamental role of water in creation and in human development, I feel the need to give thanks to God for “Sister Water”, simple and useful for life like nothing else on our planet.  Precisely for this reason, care for water sources and water basins is an urgent imperative. Today, more than ever, we need to look beyond immediate concerns (cf. Laudato Si’, 36) and beyond a purely utilitarian view of reality, “in which efficiency and productivity are entirely geared to our individual benefit” (ibid., 159). We urgently need shared projects and concrete gestures that recognize that every privatization of the natural good of water, at the expense of the human right to have access to this good, is unacceptable.
For us Christians, water represents an essential element of purification and of life.  We think immediately of baptism, the sacrament of our rebirth. Water made holy by the Spirit is the matter by which God has given us life and renewed us; it is the blessed source of undying life. For Christians of different confessions, baptism also represents the real and irreplaceable point of departure for experiencing an ever more authentic fraternity on the way to full unity. Jesus, in the course of his mission, promised a water capable of quenching human thirst for ever (cf. Jn 4:14).  He prophesied, “If any one thirst, let him come to me and drink (Jn 7:37). To drink from Jesus means to encounter him personally as the Lord, drawing from his words the meaning of life. May the words he spoke from the cross – “I thirst” (Jn 19:28) – echo constantly in our hearts. The Lord continues to ask that his thirst be quenched; he thirsts for love.  He asks us to give him to drink in all those who thirst in our own day, and to say to them, “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink” (Mt 25:35). To give to drink, in the global village, does not only entail personal gestures of charity, but also concrete choices and a constant commitment to ensure to all the primary good of water.”

https://www.vaticannews.va/en/taglist.cultura-e-societa.Diritti-umani.html

The Days of Genesis

The days that unfold in the Book of Genesis we’re reading this week get ever more complex. First, there’s God, then light and water paving the way for a host of new things, non-living and living. Finally, we humans enter the picture. A complex, changing world it is, day by day.

Jessica Powers, a Carmelite nun and poet, wrote about our experience of that world– “Song At Daybreak”

This morning on the way

that yawns with light across the eastern sky

and lifts its bright arms high –

It may bring hours disconsolate or gay,

I do not know, but this much I can say:

It will be unlike any other day.

 

God lives in his surprise and variation.

No leaf is matched, no star is shaped to star.

No soul is like my soul in all creation

though I may search afar.

There is something -anquish or elation-

that is peculiar to this day alone.

I rise from sleep and say: Hail to the morning!

Come down to me, my beautiful unknown.

“My Beautiful unknown”. Our world is beautiful, but unknown, surprising, with variations that bring “anguish or elation.” Religious people should acknowledge this, since they believe in a surprising God, but unfortunately we can make God too small. We “think like humans do.” We only think so far.

Pope Francis is taking some flack for a statement on religious freedom he made jointly with the Grand Iman of Al-Azhar in Abu Dhabi last week: “Document on Human Fraternity for World Peace and Living Together.”

“Freedom is a right of every person: each individual enjoys the freedom of belief, thought, expression and action. The pluralism and the diversity of religions, colour, sex, race and language are willed by God in His wisdom, through which He created human beings.”

“Religious indifferentism” some say, but is it just acknowledging the world the Book of Genesis describes? Our common home is complex, “willed by God in His wisdom.”

The Genesis account and the rest of the Bible deserve a search for their wisdom. I know there’s a new story that science tells, but Genesis and the Bible were there first.They have a story too.

Looking Out The Window

 

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Light and darkness. They’re important in the Genesis story. They’re also important in our morning and evening prayers. The Genesis story offers a pattern for daily prayer.

“God saw light and said it was good.” the Book of Genesis says. God creates light, then sunlight, first. Then, holding this bright lamp, God goes about creating the world day by day in the darkness.  Each day ends in darkness, but God goes to work the next day, light in hand, and new things come to be. Like us, God works day by day.

“Send forth your light and your truth, let these be my guide.” The morning psalms each day repeatedly ask for light to continue God’s work.

“Your word is a lamp for my steps, a light for my path.” The evening psalms prepare us for the darkness of night, when we rest. But God’s work will go on. Night for us is a time for trust and leaving the world in God’s hands. “Truly I have set my soul in silence and peace, As a child in its mother’s arms. even so my soul.” (Psalm 131, Tues.3)

Before television and radio and the complex scientific weather reports we get now, I think we looked out the window more to see the dawn, the dusk, the light and darkness. Should we stop looking out the window?

I don’t think so. Maybe we should look out the window more each morning and evening and try to see the light and darkness as the Book of Genesis suggests. We learn from them. God works day by day. So, “What am I going to do today?” Whatever we do, we should do it thankfully, by the light of God’s grace.

And don’t forget how the days of Genesis end. God rests and says it’s good. Something of God’s rest and appreciation, praise and thanksgiving, should be in us as we go through our days of creation.

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ, the Word of God, is called “the true light that enlightens everyone who comes into this world.”

The everyday sun promises the Sun that enlightens everyone.

Learning from Genesis


tree-of-life-2

Pope Francis, in his encyclical Laudato Si, , invites Christians to turn to the Book of Genesis to understand how they’re related to the earth.

Genesis makes clear in its first chapter that the earth, “our common home,” is God’s work. God works for 5 days to create the world; only on the 6th day does God create man, whom he gives dominion over creation– but not absolute dominion. God made this world, not us, and every created thing enjoys a distinct relationship to its creator.

The dominion we have from God is a gift and is not absolute. We’re to help, respect, understand, tend, care for creation: creation isn’t ours to do what we want with it.

The 2nd chapter of Genesis describes the creation of eden-2man. The earth is dry dust, but water wells up making a soft wet clay from the dust. God, like a potter, fashions man from the clay, breathing the breath of life into him and making him a living being.

We’re creatures of the earth, the story says.  As we’re reminded on Ash Wednesday, “You are dust and to dust you shall return.”

After creating man, God places him in a garden filled with all kinds of plants and trees. Two trees are singled out, the tree of life, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Man is forbidden to eat from that tree.

What’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Why is it forbidden to eat its fruit?  There are different interpretations. Some interpret eating from the tree as a decision of moral autonomy. By eating its fruit, I claim a knowledge of good and evil; I say what’s right or wrong.

Not unusual to hear that today, is it? Some believe they’re in absolute control of their lives. They choose what’s right or wrong, good and evil, rejecting the limits of the human condition and the finite freedom God gives human beings.

Another interpretation sees eating from the tree as a decision to trust only in human experience and human knowledge that we gain as we grow and progress individually and as a people. Like children distancing themselves from their parents, we must be self sufficient, gaining a wisdom on our own. The danger is that human experience and human wisdom become absolute.  We distance ourselves from God.

Can we see both these approaches harmful to our environment? The first leads to a possessiveness of created things;  they belong to us alone and we can do anything we want with them.

The second way also leads to harming our environment. Pope Francis speaks of the danger of “anthropocentrism,” putting human beings at the center of everything, a trend he traces back to the beginnings of the Enlightenment in the 16th century. Trusting human knowledge and human creativity, some are convinced that science and technology alone can bring about a perfect world.

Technology isn’t enough to meet our present environmental crisis, the pope says, we humans need to change. We need to humbly accept our place in creation, as God meant it to be.

What about the tree of life in the Genesis narrative? In the garden the tree was a promise of continuing life. Once banished from the garden,  human beings face death.

tree-of-lifeWhen Christ came in the fullness of time, he brought life to the world, Christians believe. In his death on the cross, the sign of death was replaced by a sign of life. His cross is a tree of life.

Here’s Pope Francis from Laudato si:

“The creation accounts in the book of Genesis contain, in their own symbolic and narrative language, profound teachings about human existence and its historical reality. They suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental and closely intertwined relationships: with God, with our neighbour and with the earth itself. According to the Bible, these three vital relationships have been broken, both outwardly and within us. This rupture is sin. The harmony between the Creator, humanity and creation as a whole was disrupted by our presuming to take the place of God and refusing to acknowledge our creaturely limitations. This in turn distorted our mandate to “have dominion” over the earth (cf. Gen 1:28), to “till it and keep it” (Gen 2:15). As a result, the originally harmonious relationship between human beings and nature became conflictual (cf. Gen 3:17-19).

It is significant that the harmony which Saint Francis of Assisi experienced with all creatures was seen as a healing of that rupture. Saint Bonaventure held that, through universal reconciliation with every creature, Saint Francis in some way returned to the state of original innocence.[40] This is a far cry from our situation today, where sin is manifest in all its destructive power in wars, the various forms of violence and abuse, the abandonment of the most vulnerable, and attacks on nature.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI  66

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

February 11-17

We’ll be reading from the Book of Genesis for next two weeks. In his letter Laudato si Pope Francis asks that we reflect on the Book of Genesis to deepen our understanding of God’s creation. Good time to do it.

Monday, February 11, we remember Our Lady of Lourdes who appeared to St. Bernadette at Lourdes in France in 1858. We remember her as we read from Genesis, for she’s the new Eve, the mother of all the living.

Readings from the 7th chapter of Mark’s gospel during the week center around the objections of the Pharisees that Jesus and his disciples are not keeping Jewish laws. Jesus not only asks for a more spiritual approach to Jewish observances but he and his disciples head for pagan territory to bring them news of God’s kingdom .
February 14 we remember Cyril and Methodius who brought the news of God’s kingdom to the Slavic peoples.

FEBRUARY 11 Mon Weekday
[Our Lady of Lourdes]
Gn 1:1-19/Mk 6:53-56 (329) Ps 1

12 Tue Weekday
Gn 1:20—2:4a/Mk 7:1-13 (330)

13 Wed Weekday
Gn 2:4b-9, 15-17/Mk 7:14-23 (331)

14 Thu Saints Cyril, Monk, and Methodius, Bishop
Memorial
Gn 2:18-25/Mk 7:24-30 (332)

15 Fri Weekday
Gn 3:1-8/Mk 7:31-37 (333)

16 Sat Weekday
[BVM]
Gn 3:9-24/Mk 8:1-10 (334)

17 SUN SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Jer 17:5-8/1 Cor 15:12, 16-20/Lk 6:17, 20-26 (78)