Monthly Archives: July 2019

Treasures


By Orlando Hernandez

In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Mt 13: 44-46) our Lord gives us two short, beautiful parables about what “The Kingdom of Heaven is like .” He first tells us the story of a “person” who finds this treasure in a field, hides it again, and gives everything he/she has in order to buy that field.

Who is this person? What is this treasure? Why buy the whole field? Is the treasure too big to walk away with? Then there is the story of the merchant who also gives up everything he has to be able to buy this “pearl of great value” (or “price”).

I used to think of both parables as exhortations to give up all our worldly “possessions” in order to deserve the right to enter the Kingdom of God, and the salvation that it offers. I still think that this is the primary meaning of these stories, and it is indeed important and beautiful. However, over the years, I have wondered whether these parables also invite us to consider the Heart of this Master of the Kingdom. How does this King feel about us? Here are three little stories that have always moved me. I hold them like treasures in my own heart. In a way, they remind me of the Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ:

C.S. Lewis has this wonderful image of the Diver, who stands naked, divested of everything He had, at the brink of a high cliff. He opens out his arms, and dives headlong into the dark, violent sea below. He enters the freezing water and pushes mightily toward the even-colder bottom, past mud and filth, until He snatches the object that He was looking for out of the thick muck. He swims back up, but it is too late. He is out of air, He is about to die. But somehow He rises up full of life! He reaches the surface and opens His hand toward heaven to offer the prize He has rescued. It is the Pearl of Great Value: you and me, humanity, all of Creation.

Armando Guerra (in English it means “making war!”) is truly a soldier of God. He preaches these great talks at our Emmaus Men’s Retreats in Miami, FL. He likes to tell us that a “pearl of great value” is the product of great pain. As many of us learned In grade school the oyster winds up with a grain of sand or a small rock stuck within its shell, irritating its soft body. The oyster covers this painful object with a smooth, shiny substance called nacar, or mother-of-pearl. This only makes the object larger and torments the animal even more. The smooth rounded object grows and grows as this agonizing process keeps on repeating itself until the oyster dies. Yet, when the shell is opened up, a beautiful, valuable pearl is found inside. How can so much beauty come from so much suffering? Thank You Beloved Jesus, savior, crucified and risen! May we suffer with You in hope and trust, even joy.

The last story. Sometimes, at the end of a painful talk about self-knowledge, Armando passes around this box that looks a lot like a souvenir treasure chest (maybe he got it at Disney World), and he reads for us the parable of the treasure in the field. He has us consider that the “person” in the parable is God. He has buried this treasure in the field of His heart. He has given everything He has, even His life for it. What’s inside this “treasure chest” ? He lets us look within, one-by-one. Armando has cleverly cut and pasted a mirror at the bottom of the box. When you look inside the treasure chest, you see yourself. It seems this Kingdom of God is a Reign that is primarily ruled by the infinite power of Love. Thank You Father !

Orlando Hernández

Don’t Look Down on Yourself?

Today’s the feast of St. Peter Chrysologus, a bishop of Ravenna in Italy, who died around 450 AD. The prayer for his feast describes him as “an outstanding preacher of your Incarnate Word.”  You can see why in this excerpt from one of his sermons:

“Why do you look down on yourself who are so precious to God? Why think so little of yourself when you are so honored by him? Why do you ask how you were created, and don’t want to know why you were made?

“This entire visible universe is yours to dwell in.  It was for you that the light dispelled the overshadowing gloom; for you the night was regulated and the day was measured: for you the heavens were brightened with the brilliance of the sun, the moon and the stars. The earth was adorned with flowers, trees and fruit; lovely living things were created in the air, the fields, and the seas for you, lest you lose the joy of God’s creation in sad loneliness.

“And the Creator is still devising things that can add to your glory. He has made you in his image that you might make the invisible Creator present on earth; he has made you his legate, so that the vast empire of the world might have the Lord’s representative.

“Then in his mercy God assumed what he made in you; he wanted now to be truly manifest in men and women, to be revealed in them as in an image. Now he would be in reality what he was in symbol.”

God of Tents, Clouds and Fire

On their journey through the desert they set up a meeting tent:

“Whenever Moses went out to the tent, the people would all rise and stand at the entrance of their own tents, watching Moses until he entered the tent. As Moses entered the tent, the column of cloud would come down and stand at its entrance while the LORD spoke with Moses.
On seeing the column of cloud stand at the entrance of the tent, all the people would rise and worship at the entrance of their own tents. The LORD used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”

The tent, the cloud, the pillar of fire were signs of God’s dynamic presence, a presence not fixed, but leading them to another place. The Exodus story is a story of God’s presence leading humanity on.

God leads them to a place they don’t know. God’s not a wall making them safe and settled; God’s on the move, and God moves them on.

In his book “The Mystery of the Temple” the theologian Yves Congar, OP, says we need these “long” Old Testament stories to remind us of the dynamic presence of a God of tents who is a pillar of fire by night and a cloud by day.

God is our guide, the only map we have, who moves each of us and all of history to a new stage. “We are always tempted to confine ourselves to what we see and touch, to be satisfied with this and to think that a preliminary achievement fulfills God’s promise, ” Congar writes.

“Abraham thought God’s promise was fulfilled in Ismael, Joshua thought it was the conquest of Canaan. Solomon thought it was in his immediate descendants…”but these promises were capable of more complete fulfillment which would only materialize after long periods of waiting and urgently needed purification. Only the prophets–and this, in fact, is their task–draw attention to the process of development from seminal promises and to the progress of the latter towards their accomplishment through successive stages of fulfillment continuously transcending one another.” (p 31-32)

We may think it’s the end, but it’s only a beginning.

Finally, God speaks most familiarly with Moses in the desert, a place of homelessness and unease, the Book of Exodus says: “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as one man speaks to another.”

Will that be true for us too? Does God speak most familiarly with us when we’re in the desert, not sure where life is heading?

Martha Revisited

We listen to scholars who study the bible. Why not also to artists. Here’s  the 13th century Tuscan artist, Giovanni di Milano, looking into Luke’s gospel about  Jesus with Martha and Mary at Bethany.

The artist adds some delightful details of his own to Luke’s account. He’s let his imagination roam. The table’s set for four people. That would be Jesus, Lazarus, Mary and Martha.

But, who are those others coming in the door?  Obviously, they’re Jesus’ disciples, led by Peter. One of them gestures towards Peter, as if saying, “He told us to come.”

Poor Martha in her apron holds up her hands, “What are we going to do?”

There will be no miracle, except the miracle of Martha’s hospitality.

More than four are going to be fed.

We need to read the gospels like this too.

A Garden is Our Second Home

A Garden was our first home, but the human family was banished from that garden, Genesis says. Yet, the ancient story continued in the hopes and spirituality of the Israelites and later, Christianity.

The just are like “a tree

planted near streams of water, 

that yields its fruit in season; 

Its leaves never wither;

whatever they do prospers.” (Psalm 1) 

Psalm 1, like so many psalms and prayers of Israel, recalls the Genesis story.

“The just shall flourish like the palm tree.

They shall grow like a cedar of Lebanon.

planted in the house of the LORD,

they shall flourish in the courts of our God.” 

The temple in Jerusalem is now a Garden of the Lord, according to Psalm 80 and the Prophet Ezekiel. (Ez. 48)

As God banishes the human family from the first garden, God also makes a promise: 

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and hers;

They will strike at your head,

while you strike at their heel.” (Genesis 3,15)

More than just a declaration of  enmity between the human family and the devil, or hostility of humanity towards snakes, Christianity sees the promise of Jesus Christ in these words. He blesses the human family and all creation again.

Jesus rose from the dead in a garden; he died on a Cross, a tree of life. Mary, his mother, is the new Eve, “mother of all the living.” In Christian art, she’s often represented crushing the serpent beneath her feet. 

Our Mary Garden expresses this Christian vision. Mary holds her Son, who looks out on this place of promise, under the sky, through the seasons of summer, winter, spring and fall. 

Millions of years ago, volcanic rock thrust up from the underland; a glacier brought rocks here from far to the north thousands of years ago. Flowers bloom for a season, trees and plants weather the days and the nights. 

And the human family comes to this garden to remember what God has done and to pray.  

At the name of Jesus every knee must bend, in the heavens, on earth and under the earth, and every tongue profess to the glory of God the Father–Jesus Christ is Lord!

Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you. Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb, Jesus.

Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death Amen.

Mary in Our Garden

Mary stands in our garden holding her Son. Do we make too much of her?

We call Mary Mother of God in our prayers and creeds.  “Hail Mary, full of grace, the Lord is with you…Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.” She is “our life, our sweetness and our hope.”

We honor Mary because her role in the life and mission of Jesus Christ is beyond any other creature’s. We pray to her that “we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.” She leads us to him.

Mary, Witness to his Life, Death and Resurrection

Mary witnessed the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. She knew him, like Peter and the other disciples, but she knew him in a unique way.  How do we know of Jesus’ birth and early life unless from her? She stood by the cross of her Son on Calvary. “She kept all these things in her heart and pondered over them,” St. Luke says. She was among the witnesses of his resurrection who gathered after he rose from the dead, the same evangelist states. Her memories of Jesus surely have a special place in the gospels.

Mary knew Jesus in a unique way. She knew him as his mother; he was subject to her as her son. When he began his public ministry and called disciples, she remained in Nazareth– although John’s gospel says she had a key role in his first miracle at Cana in Galilee, when he changed water into wine. As Jesus drew followers and performed great deeds, she was in Nazareth, living among those who mostly rejected him. 

Mary was especially involved in two periods of Jesus’ life: his birth and early life at Nazareth, and his death on the cross and resurrection. Both periods belong mostly to his hidden life when his power was concealed. The Word of God humbled himself, taking the form of a slave, St. Paul says, hidden except from those with eyes of faith. Mary knew him by faith, and she guides those who walk by faith to know her Son. 

Mary’s Mission in the Church

Mary has a special place in the communion of saints, who from their place in heaven, “guide us still.” When doubts and confusion occurred in the early church about the identity of Jesus, Mary was called on to give witness, and she spoke through the Spirit that Jesus, her Son, was both human and divine. By the 5th century, churches and feasts honoring Mary, the Mother of God, appeared throughout the Christian world. 

Through the centuries Christians called on her to be their companion and guide in prayer and in faith. They recognized the graces she received and her place among the blessed. She was conceived without sin and assumed body and soul into heaven. She reveals the sublime destiny awaiting us, “poor banished children of Eve.” 

Mary, the new Eve, “mother of all the living”, has a special role when her children’s faith is threatened. Her appearances in recent times of unbelief to children and ordinary individuals at Fatima and Lourdes raised their hopes, and those of the church, in the promises of Christ.

What about today? We seem to be entering an age when, in face of climate change, not only faith is God is questioned, but also faith in science and in the earth itself is shaken.

In the 14th century, when the Black Death took countless lives in Europe, Christians turned to Mary. They prayed the rosary. They planted Mary Gardens, reminders of Eden, where God blessed the first human family with blessings. Mary had a special role in renewing their faith in a God of Life.

Read again the Book of Genesis and other promises of faith, Pope Francis said in his Encyclical Laudatò Si, about climate change and the care of the earth.  Mary is the woman of faith, who holds in her arms the God of Life.

She belongs in our garden.   

Near Water

We live and build our cities near water. Our ancestors did that before us, and they recognized water as a gift in the stories they told about the world’s beginnings.

In the Genesis story water welling up from the earth brings a garden to life: plants, animals, finally human beings. There’s no life without it. From the garden, four mighty rivers bring life to other parts of earth. (Genesis 2)They even reached New York, NY.

We bless water in our prayers,:  “All you waters above the heavens, bless the Lord…Every shower and dew, bless the Lord.” (Daniel, 3, 57-58) It’s honored in the rituals we perform. The baptismal fount in our churches reminds us of it. We take it in our hand and bless ourselves with it as we go in and out of church. 

Water is a blessing of God. Unfortunately, some are deprived of its blessing.

In September, 2018, Pope Francis said,

“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” (Laudato Si., 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.”