Monthly Archives: January 2020

Numbers

Polls are everywhere in the political world today. Numbers indicate power and popularity.

I think Jesus’ disciples were interested in numbers too. In Mark’s gospel, which we’re reading at Mass these days, Jesus begins his ministry in Capernaum before an enthusiastic crowd. At the end of his first day, the whole town gathers at the door of Peter’s house and word reaches out to other towns and places that a prophet has come. The numbers go up. (Mark 1, 21-34)

But then enthusiasm dies down as Jesus’ authority is questioned. His own hometown, Nazareth, takes a dim view of him; religious leaders from Jerusalem and the followers of Herod Antipas cast doubts about him. Gradually, Capernaum and the other towns that welcomed Jesus enthusiastically turn against him. His numbers go down.

His disciples must have wondered why. Why are the numbers going down? It didn’t make sense.

Jesus answers them in today’s gospel. God‘s working in this world, the kingdom of God is coming, but human beings are mostly unaware of it.
“This is how it is with the Kingdom of God;
it is as if a man were to scatter seed on the land
and would sleep and rise night and day
and the seed would sprout and grow,
he knows not how.
Of its own accord the land yields fruit,
first the blade, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear.
And when the grain is ripe, he wields the sickle at once,
for the harvest has come.” (Mark 4, 28-34)

A greater power is at work in the scattered seed; but we know little about how it grows. The seed takes time, with its own law of growth; a great harvest will come, but still there’s mystery.

Meanwhile, we worry about numbers. Why are a growing number of Americans–almost 25%– giving up going to church or synagogue? Why are there so few vocations to our religious communities? So many of the good things in this world seem to be diminishing.

What can we do? Treasure the seed we have, scatter it as we can, look into the signs of the times. The Kingdom of God comes.

Be Merciful, O Lord, For We Have Sinned

David penitent


Because Jesus is often called “Son of David” in the New Testament and so many of the psalms are attributed to David, we may tend to idealize the great king.. David united the tribes of Israel and established a nation with its capitol in Jerusalem. Jesus himself appealed to David’s example when his enemies accused his hungry disciples of eating grain on the Sabbath.

Yet, the long narrative we read in the Book of Samuel today and tomorrow at Mass offers a darker picture of the famous king– he was a murderer and an adulterer. David had Urriah the Hittite, a faithful soldier in his army, killed so that he could have Bathsheba, his wife. (2 Samuel 11, 1-17)

Psalm 51 is the response we make at Mass after listening to the king’s sordid deed. Tradition says it’s David’s own response after he realized what he had done. The Book of Psalms calls Psalm 51: “A psalm of David when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba.”

“Have mercy on me, O God, in your goodness;
in the greatness of your compassion wipe out my offense.
Thoroughly wash me from my guilt
And of my sin cleanse me.”

The psalm, the first of the Seven Penitential Psalms, asks God to take away both the personal and social effects of our sin, for our sins do indeed have emotional, physical and social consequences. Only God can “wash away” our guilt and cleanse our heart. Only God can “rebuild” the walls that our sins have torn down and the lives they have harmed. Only God can restore joy to our spirits and help us “teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.” Only God can bring us back to his friendship.

In the scriptures, David is a complex figure– a saint and a sinner. He’s really a reflection of us all. That’s why our response in the psalm at Mass today takes the form that it does –

“Be merciful, O Lord, for we have sinned.”

St. John Bosco, January 31


St. John Bosco, (1815-1888) was born in northern Italy, then experiencing the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. His father died when he was two and he was brought up by his mother who struggled financially raising him, yet took care he had a good religious and humanistic education.

At twenty, John entered the seminary and once ordained a priest he devoted himself to helping young men facing a society moving from farms to factories, from an apprentice-based economy to one based on machines. He provided for their education and spirituality. He was joined by Mother Mary Dominic Mazzarello who took on the education of young women.

As young Italians began to immigrate to other countries in search of work, John Bosco and his companions accompanied them to North and South America. The Salesian community he founded spread throughout the world as educators and missionaries.

The opening prayer for his feast calls John Bosco “a teacher and father of the young.” He believed firmly that young people needed a good educational formation, but he also believed they needed teachers who took a fatherly interest in them, as God is Father of us all.

“The young should know that they are loved,” he said. As a boy he himself knew what the loss of father meant. As a young man he enjoyed circus entertainers, so he knew we need entertainment. But he also said, “ I do not recommend penance, but work, work, work.”

“Let us regard those boys over whom we have some authority as our own sons. Let us place ourselves in their service. Let us be ashamed to assume an attitude of superiority. Let us not rule over them except for the purpose of serving them better.

This was the method that Jesus used with the apostles. He put up with their ignorance and roughness and even their infidelity. He treated sinners with a kindness and affection that caused some to be shocked, others to be scandalised, and still others to hope for God’s mercy. And so he bade us to be gentle and humble of heart.” (Letter, John Bosco)

The church must always look at the “signs of the times in the light of faith.” We pray for people like John Bosco to meet the needs of the young today.

Jesus' Lake

Orlando Hernández     

The Gospel (Mk 4: 35-41) for the Saturday of the third week in Ordinary Time tells the dramatic story of Jesus’ miracle when He saved His disciples from the “violent squall” that befell their boats in the middle of the Sea of Galilee. I love how Jesus was peacefully sleeping in the stern.

According to the fourth chapter of Mark He had just finished a long day, standing on perhaps this very same boat, preaching to the many people that were on the shore. Our human Brother got tired, like all of us. The disciples had to wake Him and even dared to reprimand their Master: “ Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing ?” Our Lord swiftly takes care of the situation, as if this dangerous natural phenomenon were just a little, unruly child: “ Quiet! Be still!”   

 Jesus is apparently disappointed at their lack of faith, and they seemed to confirm His opinion as they say (One of my most beloved sentences in the Bible!): “Who then is this whom even wind and sea obey?” They still did not understand the incredible Blessing that they were living with. Even now, some of us, at certain moments find ourselves at the perilous edge of our faith in difficult, stormy times. The Loving One is sleeping quietly within us, and we just can’t find the way to “wake Him”, or so we think. I also find myself suddenly, even in the midst of my most recollected moments, asking Him the question: “Who ARE You? “   

 I was thinking about this Gospel on our Pilgrimage to the Holy Land, as I stood on the prow of the wooden ship that was giving us a ride on the Sea of Galilee. Conditions were totally different from those in the Gospel. The blue waters of the Lake were totally calm, reflecting the clouds in the sky. It was very beautiful and comforting. On the shore we could discern the traditional sites of the Sermon on the Mount, of the place where Jesus asked Peter, “Do you love me?”, and of the ruins of the ancient town of Capernaum. I wondered where along that shore was the cove where Jesus stood on the boat and told His parables. To think that some 2,000 years ago He WAS here, at this lake, filled me with emotion.   

 Everyone in the boat was so quiet. The vessel was large enough for us to walk around, from one side to the other. The water was so still that we did not have to sit down. There was such peace, and yet I remembered the Gospel, how from one minute to the other a dreadful storm could come along and threaten our lives. Either way, our Lord is always with us, resting in our hearts.      

As we were returning, the boat staff played recorded music, well-known religious hymns like “Amazing Grace”, “How Great Thou Art”, and Gospel songs at a faster tempo. Many of us started to hum or sing along, even lift our arms, clap our hands, and “dance”. The Holy Spirit of joy was palpable. We would move around, look into each others eyes without fear, and smile, even laugh. There was such fellowship to this group of Pilgrims, so much love. I thank God every time I think of them.    

 The boat on the Sea of Galilee can be seen as a symbol of our Church, carrying the people of God. We move on, forward, to where Jesus is taking us. Sometimes it gets turbulent, but no matter what our problems, we’re in this boat together and our ship’s Master is always with us.

The Wisdom of Thomas Aquinas

Thomas Acquinas

The feast of St. Thomas Aquinas, January 28th, in my student days was a day for presentations honoring the saint. The presentations were not about the saint’s life but his wisdom. Thomas Aquinas was a great theologian dedicated to the search for truth.

He was a man of faith, searching for understanding. That’s the definition of theology– faith seeking understanding, an understanding that draws us closer to God and helps us know God, the source of all truth.

He was a man of questions, who approached great mysteries through questions. That’s the way St. Thomas begins a sermon he once preached, found today in the Offices of Readings for his feast:

 “Why did the Son of God have to suffer for us?” He asks as he looks at the Cross of Jesus.
The passion of Jesus was necessary, the saint says, for two reasons. First, as a remedy for sin, and secondly, as an example of how to act.

Interestingly, the saint doesn’t spend much time asking why it’s a remedy for sin. He’s more interested in the passion of Jesus as an example for us. To live as we should, we need to look at Jesus on the cross, an example of every virtue:

“Do you want an  example of love? ‘Greater love than this no one has, than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.’ That’s what Jesus did on the cross. If he gave his life for us, then it should not be difficult to bear whatever hardships arise for his sake.

“If you want patience, you will find no better example than the cross. Great patience occurs in two ways: either when one patiently suffers much, or when one suffers things which one is able to avoid and yet does not avoid.

“Christ endured much on the cross, and did so patiently, because when he suffered he did not threaten; he was led like a sheep to the slaughter and he did not open his mouth. Therefore Christ’s patience on the cross was great. In patience let us run for the prize set before us, looking upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith who, for the joy set before him, bore his cross and despised the shame.

“If you want an example of humility, look upon the crucified one, for God wished to be judged by Pontius Pilate and to die.

“If you want an example of obedience, follow him who became obedient to the Father even unto death. For just as by the disobedience of one man, namely, Adam, many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one man, many were made righteous.

“If you want an example of despising earthly things, follow him who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. Upon the cross he was stripped, mocked, spat upon, struck, crowned with thorns, and given only vinegar and gall to drink.

“Do not be attached, therefore, to clothing and riches, because they divided my garments among themselves. Nor to honours, for he experienced harsh words and scourgings. Nor to greatness of rank, for weaving a crown of thorns they placed it on my head. Nor to anything delightful, for in my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink.”

St. Thomas’ great theological work, the Summa Theologica can be found here.

No Hope?

We’re reading from the 2nd Book of Samuel this week at Mass. The first 8 chapters describe David’s accomplishments as an ideal king. He unites the tribes of Israel and conquers Jerusalem from the Jebusites to make it his capitol– his greatest military victory. (Monday).

 He brings the Ark of the Covenant and places it in a special tent in his capitol city, acknowledging God’s primacy over this kingdom. He listens to the prophet Nathan, acknowledging the prophetic voice, God’s vice, in Israel.

God says to David, through the Prophet Nathan: “Your house and your kingdom shall endure forever before me; your throne shall stand firm forever.’” Unlike Saul’s throne, David’s throne will stand forever.  (Tuesday-Thursday) 

But chapters 9-20 describe David’s darker side, beginning with his murder of Uriah and taking his wife Bathsheba. He’s accused by the Prophet Nathan. (Friday-Saturday)  Though he repents, dire consequences follow his sin. Yet, God remains faithful to David and his people Israel. 

One reason we keep reading the Old Testament is to see Israel’s history unfold and hear the promises God makes to her, in spite of her sinfulness and infidelity. It helps us deal with our own times

Yesterday I was reading the New York Times and I don’t think I ever saw its editorial and opinion pages so pessimistic about the future. There was pessimism about science, held captive by what was called “Surveillance Capitalism.” Money and greed control science and technology. There was pessimism about our political system and about climate change. No hope, no vision for science, capitalism or politics, even the physical world itself– all the big engines of our society.

The scriptures match the bad news we face, but they never quench hope. God has a parent’s love for us; we shouldn’t succumb to pessimism. We’re David’s children, through Jesus Christ. “The future of humanity rests with people who are capable of providing the generations to come with reasons for living and for hope.” (Gaudium et spes, 32)

Weekday Readings for 3rd Week

 

January 27 Mon Weekday

[Saint Angela Merici, Virgin]

2 Sm 5:1-7, 10/Mk 3:22-30 

28 Tue Saint Thomas Aquinas, Priest and Doctor of the Church Memorial

2 Sm 6:12b-15, 17-19/Mk 3:31-35

29 Wed Weekday

2 Sm 7:4-17/Mk 4:1-20

30 Thu Weekday

2 Sm 7:18-19, 24-29/Mk 4:21-25

31 Fri Saint John Bosco, Priest Memorial

2 Sm 11:1-4a, 5-10a, 13-17/Mk 4:26-34

1 Sat Weekday

2 Sm 12:1-7a, 10-17/Mk 4:35-41 

2 SUN THE PRESENTATION OF THE LORD Feast

Mal 3:1-4/Heb 2:14-18/Lk 2:22-40 or 2:22-32