Author Archives: vhoagland

11th Week of the Year

Ez 17:22-24/2 Cor 5:6-10/Mk 4:26-34 (92)

18 Mon Weekday
1 Kgs 21:1-16/Mt 5:38-42 (365)

19 Tue Weekday
[Saint Romuald, Abbot]
1 Kgs 21:17-29/Mt 5:43-48 (366)

20 Wed Weekday
2 Kgs 2:1, 6-14/Mt 6:1-6, 16-18 (367)

21 Thu Saint Aloysius Gonzaga, Religious
Sir 48:1-14/Mt 6:7-15 (368)

22 Fri Weekday
[Saint Paulinus of Nola, Bishop; Saints John Fisher, Bishop, and Thomas More, Martyrs]
2 Kgs 11:1-4, 9-18, 20/Mt 6:19-23 (369)

23 Sat Weekday
2 Chr 24:17-25/Mt 6:24-34 (370)

We’re reading these days the first and most important of five teachings of Jesus from Matthew’s gospel, the Sermon on the Mount. (Matthew 5, 1-7,29) These extended teachings are not only meant for us. In Matthew’s gospel they indicate how Jesus lived his life and ministry. He lives what he teaches.

Elijah’s story concludes this week in readings praising the mighty prophet. He’s not afraid of the powerful people. Neither is Jesus afraid of the powerful; the crowds who encounter him wonder if he’s not Elijah returned.

The saints this week come from different times, Romuald, 11th century Italy, Paulinus of Nola, 5th century Italy, Aloysius Gonzaga, 16th century Italy, Thomas More and John Fisher, 16th century England. Holiness is found in every age and social condition.

In the Silence

Elijah’s on the run, our scripture reading at Mass today says.

“At the mountain of God, Horeb,
Elijah came to a cave, where he took shelter.
But the word of the LORD came to him,
“Go outside and stand on the mountain before the LORD.” (1 Kings 19, 1-16)

Some 30 years ago, a younger man climbed that mountain, Sinai, on a memorable tour with Fr. Donald Senior. We rose about 2 AM to begin the climb in the dark, guided up the rocky winding path by a guide with a flashlight. Bedouins offered a camel ride for anyone who couldn’t make it, almost 7,000 feet up.

We arrived at the barren top at sunrise. I remember the silence of the place, the bare rock, the absence of plants or trees or any sign of life. The guide pointed to a speck of green down aways, “Elijah’s cave,” he said. We left before the sun was high; too hot to stay there long.

The scriptural story says Elijah was told to “stand outside on the mountain before the Lord,” and he experienced a strong wind, an earthquake, fire, but God was not in any of these. Then, in the silence, he heard a “tiny whispering sound” and he hid his face before God.

“A tiny whispering sound.” That’s the way God speaks to us, I told those at Mass this morning. Elijah pours out his woes to God. He’s a fugitive, fighting for his life, with no chance against Ahab and Jezebel.

But God whispers to Elijah. Go down the mountain and go north again. Your enemies won’t stop you. There’s a mission I have for you; I’ll be with you. In the silence Elijah heard God.

In the silence of the Eucharist, God whispers.

Love Is Not Easy

By Orlando Hernandez

This Thursday’s Gospel continues with the extremely challenging statements that our Lord pronounces in the Sermon on the Mount:

“I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the Kingdom of Heaven. You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgement.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgement, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. Therefore, if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled with your brother, and then come and offer your gift.” (Mt 5: 20-24)

Our faith and religion is the great gift of God, but we can spoil this gift if we use it as an excuse to feel that we are “better” than our neighbor. Even prayer and piety can unfortunately be used as a cover for inhumane behavior. Our Lord points out the dangerous practices of self-righteousness that can lead to the escalation of conflict which condemns us not only to the loss of love of neighbor, but even to the total disregard for the sanctity of human life, whether through unfettered anger, cold calculation, or simple indifference. We find ourselves imprisoned by hate and guilt: “Your opponent will hand you over to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison.” (Mt 5: 25)

Abraham Lincoln’s famous quote explores this sad situation when he talks about the two sides in the Civil War: “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God,and each invokes His aid against the other.” I imagine those prayers and see them as ferocious darts, adding to the countless wounds of our Jesus on the Cross. What is right and what is wrong? Why is there so much divisiveness in our country, in our world? Is our real “opponent” happily leading us in chains to the Judge? Are we already in a hopeless Gehenna, where truth and mercy are incinerated along with God’s goal of human unity within His loving embrace?

My conservative son complains that those on “the left” are merely hypocrites, calling themselves compassionate while they approve of the killing of unborn life. This kind-hearted couple, my friends, who were influential in my conversion, now call themselves “Buddhists.” After decades of being zealous Pentecostals, they now feel betrayed by their fellow fundamentalists, who support so many things that they consider divisive and cruel.

Lincoln goes on to say in his speech, “With malice towards none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…” How do we begin to do this? How can I gauge what is “the right as God gives us to see?” How can I hold fast to love, to tolerance, to acceptance of so many people who seem so difficult to me? Only in prayer, in faithful surrender to the love of God can I find the way out of Gehenna, to defeat the real “opponent”, the accuser, the divider. Only God can give me the strength.

But oh, sometimes I feel totally bound up by these negative aggressive thoughts. My loving wife sees me there with that disturbed look she knows so well, and tells me, “Snap out of it! Look around!” Out of concern for me she got me this challenging checklist by Richard Rohr OFM, that she got at her last retreat. It sounds a lot like the Sermon on the Mount. And it is titled “What Might A Joyful Spirit Be?” Joyfulness seems to be the only way out of the prison, and this joy is the Grace that only communion with Jesus can give. Here are some examples, which can be fruitful conduits to prayer:
“ When you do not need to be right.
When you no longer need to compete–not even in your own head.
When you do not need to analyze or judge things as in or out, positive or negative, black or white.
When you can follow the intelligent lead of your heart.
When you are curious and interested, not suspicious and interrogating.
When you do not brood over injuries.
When you do not need to humiliate, critique, or defeat those who have hurt you- not even in your mind.
When you can let go of obsessive or negative thoughts.
When you do not divide and always condemn one side or group.
When you can find truth on both sides.
When you can critique and also detach from the critique.
When you can wait, listen, and learn.
When you can admit it was wrong and change.
When you can actually love without counting the cost.
When you can live satisfied without resolution or closure.
When you can find God in all things.”

Orlando Hernández

St. Anthony of Padua

There’ s surprising range of pictures of St. Anthony. In some he’s  blissfully holding the Christ Child in his arms, which is how someone saw him one day towards the end of his life– holding the Child Jesus. At times he’s pictured holding a book in his hand. Some pictures and statues portray him holding the Child and the book together and giving a loaf of bread to  a poor man.

The pictures and statues say a lot about him.

Anthony was born in Portugal in 1195 and died near Padua, Italy in 1291, acclaimed for his preaching and virtues.  Canonized shortly after his death, he’s invoked as a miracle-worker, especially good at finding something lost. But Anthony’s more than a miracle-worker.

His world was the complex, changing world of the 13th century when Europe’s economy was expanding; military crusades against the Muslim powers were in full swing in Spain, Sicily and the Holy Land, and new religious movements like the Franciscans were bringing reform and new vigor to the western church.

Anthony entered the Augustinian community in his birthplace, Lisbon, and studied at the renowned theological center of Coimbra as a young man. Just decades before, Portugal had been freed from the control of the Moors, but then, unfortunately, the victors started fighting among themselves for power and spoils from the crusades.

Anthony rejected the violence and avarice he saw in feuding leaders of church and state; he was a crusader of another kind.  When the bodies of some Franciscan missionaries martyred in Morocco in 1219 while preaching the gospel were brought back to Portugal, Anthony decided to join the new community.  He became a Franciscan and went to Morocco, hoping to preach the faith to the Muslims there, but illness forced him out and he went to Sicily, then to Italy, where he became a Franciscan missionary and teacher.

Only a few years before, in 1206 in Assisi, young Francis Bernadone stripped himself of his trendy, stylish clothes and put on the dress of a poor man, to follow the poor Man of Nazareth, Jesus Christ. Thousands followed him and the movement he began quickly spread through the Christian world. Like others, Anthony was attracted to this movement, eager to bring the gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

The Franciscan movement began with a dedication to absolute poverty and a simple life, but as church leaders requested them to preach the gospel throughout the world its members needed books, education, training and places of formation. Anthony emerged as a model Franciscan preacher and teacher.

Through northern Italy, then through France, Anthony’s vivid, down-to-earth preaching stirred people’s hearts and minds and showed other preachers how to preach.  At the time, the Franciscan movement was not the only movement attracting the people of Europe. Through northern Italy and especially in France, Albigensian teachers were preaching a message of simplicity and release from the burdens of life to believers dissatisfied with the church. They denied that Jesus was divine, they questioned the gospels and painted the world as an evil place.

“Wise as a serpent and simple as a dove” Anthony disputed their message in his preaching. Gifted with an extraordinary memory for the scriptures and an ability to illustrate his talks with homey examples simple people understood, he spoke “with a well-trained tongue.” Thousands came to hear him. The world was not  evil, Anthony taught, Jesus, the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Artists capture Anthony’s spirit in their portraits of him. As a preacher and teacher, he carries of book, most likely a psalter holding the Jewish psalms. St. Augustine, whom Anthony studied as a youth, always carried this one book of the bible with him, as a summary of the scriptures.

Some say this book is also clue to Anthony’s gift for finding lost things. He probably kept his notes for teaching and preaching in it. If he lost it–some say one of his students stole it– he lost something valuable to him. He found it, so he knows what it means when someone loses something too. “Good St. Anthony, come around, something’s lost and can’t be found.”

The Christ Child Anthony holds in his arms was more than a momentary vision he had.  Anthony was deeply attracted, as St. Francis was, to the mystery of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh. God became a little child, who grew in wisdom and age and grace in the simple world of Nazareth. He died on a cross, accepting it as his Father’s will. Then, he rose from the dead.

Human life and the world itself has been blessed by this mystery. Because of it,  life can never be small or inconsequential. Even suffering and death have been changed. “The goodness and kindness of God has appeared.” We hold it in our hands.

I suppose this is why a picture of St. Anthony is down in our laundry where Brother Angelo and others wash sheets and towels and clothes. He speaks to this world.

Listen to the Flowers

Passionist Garden, Jamaica , New York

By Andrea Florendo

I can’t imagine a pilgrimage any time of year without remembering Saint Paul of the Cross, Founder of the Congregation of the Passionists (1694-1775). He once talked of the beauty of communing with Nature. I am certain he was not simply writing for himself but to you and me , as well, when he wrote this:

“Listen to the sermon preached by the flowers,
the trees, the shrubs, the sky and the whole world.
Notice how they preached to you a sermon full of love,
of praise of God, and how they invite you to glorify
the sublimity of that Sovereign Artist
Who has given them being.”

Just simply, listen!

Blessed Lorenzo Salvi, Passionist (1782-1856)

Are Catholic religious communities like the Passionists on their way out? Numbers or institutions don’t always predict the future. More importantly, is a community still nourishing saints and fostering holiness? That’s a lesson to learn from Blessed Lorenzo Salvi, a Passionist whose feast is June 12th.

Lorenzo Salvi was born in Rome on October 30, 1782, professed a Passionist in 1802, and ordained a priest in 1805. These dates are important, they were extraordinary times. As Lorenzo entered the Passionists, Napoleon was carrying out his campaign to create a grand new world with France and himself at its center. He saw the Catholic church, particularly the papacy, standing in his way and he tried to cripple the power of the popes.

Napoleon invaded the Papal States in 1787, then again in 1798 when he declared a Roman Republic and drove Pope Pius Vi into exile where he died in 1799. Napoleon also ordered religious orders like the Passionists suppressed, their religious houses closed and their members sent back to their families or wherever they could find a place for themselves. Most Passionist houses were closed for a year or more at the time.

Not a good time to join the Passionists, you would think. But Lorenzo did.

The body of Pius VI was brought back to Rome in 1802, the year Lorenzo made his vows. Many people felt then that the papacy had come to an end. The future didn’t look good.

In 1799 the new pope, Pius VII appointed Father Vincent Mary Strambi, a distinguished Passionist preacher and teacher, as bishop of Marcerati, to shore up a tottering diocese in the papal states. Later, Strambi would be declared a saint. Certainly the move benefited the church, but perhaps not so much the Passionists who lost a religious deeply involved in forming their young people, like Lorenzo.

You wonder what the young man felt facing the future at a time like that.

Far from losing hope, Lorenzo’s spirit seemed to soar and his call strengthened during the Napoleonic suppression. Napoleon’s plans failed as the young priest worked to preserve and restore the church in Italy and his own congregation, the Passionists.

Lorenzo Salvi was a forceful preacher who had a great devotion to the Child Jesus. “Unless you become like little children, you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said. Lorenzo had the heart of a child who believed in the kingdom of God that no one can suppress or destroy.

The Passionists entered a period of surprising growth after the Napoleonic suppression. Lorenzo, an inspiring preacher and holy priest, was one of those leading the community into a new era.

Pray for saints like Lorenzo today.

Lord, you granted Blessed Lorenzo Maria Salvi an intense and penetrating knowledge of the mystery of your Word made flesh through his devout contemplation of the Child Jesus. Through his intercession grant that we, too, walking in the ways of spiritual childhood, may come to eternal life in your Son. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit one God, forever and ever.