Author Archives: vhoagland

Sisters of Mercy

Just ended a week long  retreat for the Sisters of Mercy at Parsons Boulevard in Queens, New York. I sat some time facing a small statue of Mary (above) and the image in a mirror of Catherine McAuley, the Irish woman who founded the community. Next to her image is what she wrote about the spirit and purpose of her institute:

“Each religious institute receives a grace particularly adapted to the service they are called to perform. We ought, then, to have great confidence in God in the discharge of all these offices of Mercy, spiritual and corporal, which constitute the business of our lives…visiting prisons and hospitals and by reconciling quarrels…the spirit of prayer should be most dear to us, yet such a spirit should never withdraw us from the works of mercy.”

May God give the Sisters of Mercy grace for that mission today. The world needs to be blessed by the works of mercy.

The Pentateuch

This week we’re beginning to read from the Book of Exodus, the second of the five books of the Pentateuch. They’re important, so let’s step back and see the big picture they reveal.

Until the 17th century, the common opinion was that the five books of the Pentateuch–Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy– were written by Moses to tell the story of Israel from its origins at the creation of the world till the entrance to the promised land of Canaan. Since then, scholars say that many hands created the books of the Pentateuch– the Torah.

Rather than figuring out what hands they are, it might be better to keep the big picture before us. God creates the heavens and the earth (Genesis), he creates human beings, male and female. Then God says to Adam and Eve, “Increase and multiply and fill the earth.” “Let there be more of you, and take possession of the land I’ve created for you.”

Human beings, we know, resisted God’s plan through sin, and so after Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, the flood and the destruction of tower of Babel, God turns to Abraham and Sarah, a landless, childless couple, and God makes them the promise made to Adam and Eve­–many children and a land of their own. Through them, God will bless all the peoples of the earth. This, then, is our story too.

Land and children. A fruitful land, a multitude of children. Yet, the promises seem to elude Abraham and our ancestors as they go from place to place. When Jacob arrives in Egypt, it seems the promises might come true. Egypt seems an ideal spot for children to flourish; their numbers increase, they settle on good land and become a powerful group in Egyptian society.

But this isn’t the place, the Book of Exodus says, and so Moses leads them out through the desert where at Sinai God promises to be their God; they’ll have a law to guide them, bread to nourish them. It’s not an easy journey and they’re not an easy people, but God  guides them on their way.

Scholars today say Moses didn’t write the books of the Pentateuch. The final compilation of earlier sources was made after the Jews lost their homeland and were driven into exile in Bablyon in the seventh century BC. The compilers wanted the exiles to know their history. They were children of Abraham. The God of their ancestors was their God. They had a law to guide them, bread to nourish them, a desert to journey through. Most importantly, they would reach a fruitful land and have a multitude of children.

The commentary from the New American Bible claims the editor made a substantial change to the ancient narrative to emphasize that last point:

“The last chapter of the ancient narrative—Israel dwelling securely in its land—no longer held true. The story had to be reinterpreted, and the Priestly editor is often credited with doing so. A preface (Genesis 1) was added, emphasizing God’s intent that human beings continue in existence through their progeny and possess their own land. Good news, surely, to a devastated people wondering whether they would survive and repossess their ancestral land. The ending of the old story was changed to depict Israel at the threshold of the promised land (the plains of Moab) rather than in it. Henceforth, Israel would be a people oriented toward the land rather than possessing it. The revised ending could not be more suitable for Jews and Christians alike. Both peoples can imagine themselves on the threshold of the promised land, listening to the word of God in order to be able to enter it in the future. For Christians particularly, the Pentateuch portrays the pilgrim people waiting for the full realization of the kingdom of God.”

Thoughts to hold onto in a changing world and a changing church.


JULY15 Mon Saint Bonaventure, Bishop and Doctor of the Church Memorial Ex 1:8-14, 22/Mt 10:34—11:1 16

Tue Weekday [Our Lady of Mount Carmel] Ex 2:1-15a/Mt 11:20-24

17 Wed Weekday Ex 3:1-6, 9-12/Mt 11:25-27

18 Thu Weekday [USA: Saint Camillus de Lellis, Priest] Ex 3:13-20/Mt 11:28-30

19 Fri Weekday Ex 11:10—12:14/Mt 12:1-8 20 Sat Weekday [Saint Apollinaris, Bishop and Martyr] Ex 12:37-42/Mt 12:14-21

21 SUN SIXTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME Gn 18:1-10a/Col 1:24-28/Lk 10:38-42

The readings from the Book of Exodus this week tell the story of another of our ancestors in faith, Moses, whom God sends to bring his people from Egypt to the Promised Land.

St. Bonaventure, whose feast is celebrated on Monday, has an important role in the development of the Franciscan movement. He brought intellectual gifts to Francis’ tradition. The saints (and important figures) of any tradition bring new dimensions to the original charism of the founder.

Mary, the Mother of Jesus, enriches the charism of so many great religious traditions in the church by her presence. Our Lady of Mount Carmel (July 16) enriches the Carmelite tradition.

We Are Sent

by Orlando Hernandez

    The Gospels from Wednesday to Saturday of the 14th Week in Ordinary time all deal with Jesus’ words in the tenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel.  Our Lord instructs His Apostles on their Mission and what it entails. 

    In the previous chapter (Mt 9: 35-38) Jesus has been moved to pity for the people He has come to teach and heal. Even in our present time, as back then, his Heart is filled with sorrow and compassion for humanity because we seem so “troubled and abandoned, like sheep without a shepherd.” Are we to join Him in crying, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned me?” I would rather try to stand up straight and cry out, even in my moments of desolation: “Resurrected Divine One, I trust in You!”

    The Biblical Jesus must have accepted that this harvest of hungry souls was too much, even for him. The Kingdom of love and salvation would require recruitment of more “laborers for the harvest” to help Him guide Humanity to Him. So in chapter 10, Jesus turns twelve of His disciples (Latin: “pupils”) into Apostles (Gk: “messengers,” “apo”: off, “stellein”: send), to be “sent off”, to teach His Message and help Him heal the world. They are listed each by name. We see that they are individual persons, imperfect human beings, like all of us. We can relate to them, try to imagine what each one of them was like, even now when we venerate them as Saints. Ready or not, Our Lord sent them out to their own people, to proclaim this “Kingdom of Heaven.”

    I always hope that I am a “disciple” of Christ, learning from Him, being with Him every day, but I just cannot dare to call myself “apostle.”   No, only priests, theologically trained preachers, healers and missionaries deserve this title. But, upon reading chapter 10, I feel as if Jesus is talking to me, inviting me to go out and bring this message of love and healing to the world, precisely at a moment when my discipleship is not going so well and my soul is in turmoil. I feel called to start, as always, with those nearest to me, family, friends, acquaintances, people I run into. What can I say to them? How can I become a living, talking Gospel? Is He really sending me? Is He grabbing me and shaking me out of my stupor, saying, “I need you NOW!”

    Over the last few days I have read a number of spiritual writers who in different ways seem to be saying that this Apostolic mission has been lovingly given to each one of us by God, as our true journey in life: “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I dedicated you, a prophet to the nations I appointed you “(Jer 1:5). It makes sense, when we see the incredible power of newborn babies to bring joy, gratitude, and healing to those around. The deep mystery of Love seems to emanate from them as they grow up around us. But eventually they seem to lose this gift as the roughness of life begins to hurt them more and more and they become “troubled and abandoned” like most of us. The laborers for the harvest become fewer and fewer.  

    But the Invitation is still there, whispering within us. For His own reasons, Our Lord blesses some of us with a louder calling. The gift and grace of this invitation is the luminous Presence of our God, Who gives us the unexpected wisdom and strength to attempt the things that Jesus demands of us: to proclaim Him, to go out into the road of life and bring healing and salvation to others, beginning with our very selves. Only in abundant prayerful contact with our Lord, knowing that He is always with us, can we gain the peaceful attitude to go out as “lambs among wolves,” or “as simple as doves” in a beautiful but often hostile world.  Only by following His example can we attain the humility and freedom to let go of so many luxuries and things that encumber us on our way. Only through Him can we become trusting and dependent on the kindness of other human beings as we “enter their house” and share our peace with them. It seems to me that only in the power of this Divine invitation to mutual understanding, compassion, and trust, can we begin to find healing and truly preach the Gospel to each other. 

    Not every one will be that “nice” to us. Again, only by prayer and constant reminder by our God that we are His beloved children, can we bear the dust of rejection, the scourge of hate, the mistrust of a wounded world, and not become discouraged, cynical, or indifferent in our quest for for souls to love. That is our mission, to love, no matter what. Quietly, in trust and meekness, can we hear in the darkness the whisper of the Spirit, Who tells us “Do not be afraid.”, and infuses us with the desire and courage to proclaim, as if “on the rooftops”, before our oppressors, before the powerful and those oppressed and bitter, at the top of our lungs, that we are so intimately known by the Infinite Power Who loves us so much as to count every hair in our heads, every chemical reaction in every one of our cells, every hope or dream, shining or broken, within our souls. 

    How to begin?  We all have our ways; I am confident of that. As for myself, yesterday I did the best I could. It has been getting harder for me to feel comfortable with my grand children. They seem more detached, cynical, argumentative, and mistrustful of their elders (may God deliver me from judging!). But I know that I love them with a crazy love that fills me with gratitude. So my wife and I ( we go out “in pairs”) decided, even though we were not in our best moods, to take all four of them to the movies. It turned out fine. They did not fight or seem bored, and gave me a surprising amount of joy. On our way back to the car I got the urge to tell them: “Listen, I just paid for your movie and for your snacks, so you have to humor me. I’m gonna pray over each of you. Think really hard about something that is bothering you or hurting you, in your body, or in your heart.  Don’t tell us what it is; just think about it really hard. I will pray for God to free you from it. OK?

    So I went individually to each one of them, laid my hands on their shoulders, and reminded them of how much God loved them. I told them to feel that love and asked for the power of God to heal that problem or hurt, IN THE NAME OF JESUS. Later I asked each one of them if they had just been putting up with me or if they were really concentrating on the prayer. Each one, from the eight-year old to the fourteen-year old, seemed very serious when they remembered the moment and the thing they had been praying for. This is the first time I ever did something like this with them. Too little too late? Nothing is too little with God, nor is it ever too late. Blessed be Your Name, Beloved.

St. Benedict, July 11

St. Benedict, Perugino, Vatican Museum

St. Benedict, brother of St. Scolastica, was born into a wealthy family, in Nursia, Italy, in 480. He went to Rome to be educated at a time when the city was experiencing moral decline and invasions by barbarian tribes. Leaving Rome in search of another way of learning, he withdrew to the village of Enfide for number of years.

Around the year 500, Benedict went to a remote area of Subiaco where he came under the influence of a monk named Romanus. Benedict became a monk himself and spent the next three years in a cave, living a life of prayer and solitude.

Others wished to join him and by 525 Benedict had established a number of monastic communities. In 529, along with some followers, he went to Monte Cassino about 80 miles south of Rome and founded the great monastery that become the foundation of western monasticism. 

A wise spiritual leader and worker of miracles, Benedict influenced the development of Europe through his rule and monastic foundations. He saw monasticism as a “school of the Lord’s service.” Pope Gregory the Great (540-612) recognized his influence in his “Dialogues” and promoted monasticism as a way to spread the gospel and bring life to a society experiencing dramatic change. Pope Paul VI named Benedict the patron of Europe. 

He died at Monte Cassino March 21, 547.

Whatever work you begin to do, ask God in earnest prayer to make it perfect…We are going to establish a school for the Lord’s service. Nothing harsh or burdensome will enter there, we hope… as we go forward in faith our hearts will expand, and we will run in the way of God’s commands with unspeakable joy.”  (Rule of St. Benedict) 

As Lambs Among Wolves

In the gospels read at Mass this week, from the 10th chapter of Matthew, Jesus sends the Twelve on a mission. They have a restricted mission: “Jesus summoned his Twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits to drive them out and to cure every disease and every illness.” (Matthew 10, 1)

They have authority over unclean spirits and can cure every kind of disease, important gifts, but they haven’t received power to teach yet. That will come after Jesus’ resurrection.They’re also told not to go into pagan territory or Samaritan towns. but to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel.”

They’re on a restricted mission.

The evangelists differ. In Luke’s gospel, read last Sunday, Jesus not only sends the twelve, but seventy two others. No restrictions are given them. Go to every town and place I intend to visit, Jesus says to them.

In both gospels, the disciples are told to have no walking stick, no traveling bag, no sandals.. They’re not promised economic security or assurance they’ll be received well and their mission will be successful.

Ministry will never be easy, under any circumstances. It will always be “as lambs among wolves.” Ministry changes as times and circumstances change, but whatever the time and circumstances, we’re sent.

What are we called to do today? Something must be done today, something we don’t see. “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” And Jesus repeatedly says, “Don’t be afraid to do it.”