Monthly Archives: May 2019

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Visitation
Faith gives life and sends us on a mission. That’s what it did for Mary, Luke’s gospel says.

Mary believes the angel who announces in Nazareth the coming of Jesus, and she’s empowered by the message. So,  she sets out “in haste” for the hill country of Judea to visit Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, who also was with child. It’s not an ordinary visit. She goes “in haste” because she’s filled with a sense of mission. She hurries to Judea to announce good news to her relatives serving in the temple of God.

Faith is not a burden; it empowers us. It does not cripple us, it enables.

 “Blessed are you who believed,” Elizabeth says to Mary.

“You too, my people, are blessed,” comments St. Ambrose, “ you who have heard and who believe. Every soul that believes — that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes his works.

“Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ, but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us.”

As with Mary so with us, faith gives life and sends us on a mission..

A year ago today we blessed our Mary Garden here. We will pray there after the 11 AM Mass.

St.Paul at Athens

We’re reading at Mass about the journeys of St. Paul from the Acts of the Apostles in the easter season. In the Acts of the Apostles Luke carefully notes the various places Paul and his companions reach as they go from Jerusalem to Rome. They set up churches as they go from place to place. The gospel must be preached everywhere in the world, Jesus said. 

We think of these journeys as travel journeys. Our bibles and commentaries supply maps to help us follow them. This week in our readings Paul enters Europe as he reaches Macedonia,.

But Paul’s journeys are more that traveling from place to place and setting up churches with presbyters and later bishops. In the Acts of the Apostles, Luke sees the gospel proclaimed to the world in many dimension. Look at the accounts we read this week.  

On Monday Paul speaks to women at their place of prayer along the water in Thessaloniki and he invites Lydia– or rather she invited herself– to join him in his mission. Just as Luke does in his gospel, he wants us to see that women are meant to hear the Good News and that they have a role in bringing its message to others.

On Tuesday Paul and Silas are thrown into prison at Philippi. (Acts 17,22-34) Not only is the jailor and his household converted to the gospel, but also Luke tells us the prisoners were listening to them as they prayed in the night. And so, as he does in his gospel, Luke points out that the poor must hear the gospel. Most of these prisoners will never get to one of Paul’s house churches, but they must hear the gospel all the same.  

On Wednesday, Paul speaks to the intellectuals in Athens.The results of his preaching don’t seem promising, only an handful seem to respond. But the gospel has to be brought to places like Athens. The gospel has to be brought into the world of learning and science. It has to be proclaimed to those searching for the truth.

The missionary journeys of St. Paul and his companions were more than journeys from place to place, setting up churches as they went. They brought the gospel to the world in all its dimensions,

Reinterpreting the Cross

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During the Easter season, we go to Calvary to reinterpret what we saw there. Reinterpretation is at the heart of the Easter mystery. Listen to the 4th century Saint Ephrem the Syrian:

Glory be to you, Lord,
You raised your cross like a bridge to span the jaws of death, that we might go from the land of death to the land of the living.
Glory be to you, Lord,
You took on a human body that every human being might live.

You are alive. Those who killed you sowed your living body in the earth as farmers sow grain, and it sprang up and brought forth an abundant harvest of human beings from the dead.

Come, brothers and sisters, let’s offer our love. Pour out our treasury of hymns and prayers before him who offered himself on the cross to enrich us all.

In our Mary Garden here at the monastery, Mary stands with her Son on the stump of a cedar tree. A tree of life stood in the garden at the beginning, the Genesis account says. The Cross of Jesus brought life to the world, a “Faithful Cross” it’s called in an ancient hymn. And it is.

Readings:6th Week of Easter

Lent 1

Monday                             Acts 16, 11-15
John 15, 26-16,4

Tuesday                             Acts 16,22-34
John 16,5-11

Wednesday                      Acts 17, 15, 22-18,1
John 18, 12-15

Ascension Thursday       Acts 1, 1-11
Ephesians 1,17-23
Luke 24, 46-52

Friday                             Acts 18,9-18
John 16, 20-23

Saturday                           Acts 18, 23-28
John 16, 23-28

The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday this week in the eastern United States and on Sunday in the western dioceses. Better to celebrate this feast at the same time, I think.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul takes the stage at Athens, the intellectual capitol of the Roman world, but his words chosen carefully are met only with curiosity. “We would like to hear you some other time.” (Wednesday)

Paul gets a better reception in Corinth, not far from Athens, but worlds away from the proud self sufficient city. “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.” Jesus says to Paul in a vision. (Friday)

In the reading from Acts on Saturday, Luke reminds us that Paul had great people with him like Priscilla and Aquila, the wife and husband, who instruct Apollos, a good speaker but weak in his theology.  “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”

I told a cousin of mine recently who wasn’t sure about a sermon she heard in church. “You may be right and he’s wrong.”

The Council of Jerusalem

Our reading at Mass  from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 15, 7-21) brings us to a critical moment in the life of the early church– the Council of Jerusalem, which decided whether and on what terms gentiles would be accepted into the new Christian movement. Its decision to admit the gentiles led to a rapid expansion of the church as non-Jews from all parts of the Roman world embraced the faith.

Luke Timothy Johnson has a fine commentary on this crucial event. (Acts of the Apostles: Sacra Pagina, Liturgical Press 1992)

Did a meeting really take place? Johnson writes “we can state with considerable confidence that in the first decades of the Christian movement an important meeting was held concerning the legitimacy and basis of the Gentile mission; that participants included Paul and Peter and James and Barnabas; that certain agreements were reached which, in one way or another, secured the basic freedom of the Gentile initiative. The most striking agreement between the sources comes, in fact, at the religious level. With only very slight variation, both Luke and Paul agree that the basis of the mission to the Gentiles was a matter of God’s gift, (Acts15,11. Gal 2,9) and that God was equally at work in the Apostle Paul as he was in the Apostle Peter. (Acts 15,7-8.12; Gal 2,8)

Notice the hesitancy of  the original Jewish followers of Jesus to accept gentiles into their ranks. That’s evident in Peter’s strong reluctance to meet the Roman centurion Cornelius as he visits believers of his own kind around Joppa. Not only are the disciples slow to recognize their Risen Lord, they’re slow to accept his plans for expanding their ranks. Peter must see signs of God at work in Cornelius before baptizing him and his household. Paul, James and Barnabas also must see God’s gifts in the outsiders they meet before they recognize that God is calling them to believe.

God sows seeds of faith, but we’re as slow to recognize the action of God in others as the first disciples were. We have trouble seeing God’s action in the stranger and in the unexpected. We need  enlightenment.

Johnson notes that the Church’s journey through time is marked by conflict and debate. We must accept those conditions today too. Those who follow Jesus will not always agree with each other; there are strong opinions and differences among believers.

One thing I would add. Besides conflict and debate, our reading today speaks of the “silence” that comes as they debate. We’re in the presence of our transcendent God, whose ways and thoughts are above ours. We need silence to discern God’s will. Too much talk can get in the way.