Category Archives: Inspiration

Ezechiel, for those over Thirty

We‘re reading the Prophet Ezekiel at Mass these days. Early Jewish scholars considered him hard to read; only those over 30 should read him, some said. We have the same difficultly. The lectionary for today, Friday in the 19th week of the year, offers a shorter version of Ezechiel’s story of the young infant girl “thrown out on the ground as something loathsome, the day you were born thrown out to die.” Not a pretty story to look at.

It’s a story harsh to hear and hard to understand. Infanticide, a form of abortion. child abuse, gender discrimination, prostitution, ingratitude, forgetfulness of God. Ezechiel describes his own society in dark terms. Yet, all the while God is there.

“You became mine, says the Lord GOD.Then I bathed you with water, washed away your blood, and anointed you with oil. I clothed you with an embroidered gown, put sandals of fine leather on your feet; I gave you a fine linen sash and silk robes to wear. I adorned you with jewelry… You were exceedingly beautiful, with the dignity of a queen.”

“But you were captivated by your own beauty,
you used your renown to make yourself a harlot,
and you lavished your harlotry on every passer-by,
whose own you became.”

“Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were a girl,
and I will set up an everlasting covenant with you,
that you may remember and be covered with confusion,
and that you may be utterly silenced for shame
when I pardon you for all you have done, says the Lord GOD.”
{Ezechiel 16, 1-69)

The story of the abandoned girl is a story of sin and redemption. All the while God is there.

Ezechiel was a priest brought captive to Babylon along with King Johoiachin and members of the Jewish elite after the Babylonians crushed the Jewish revolt against them in 597 BC. Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, left Zedekiah to rule in Jerusalem, but Zedekiah revolted five years later. The Babylonians had enough and destroyed Jerusalem completely.

The Jewish elite in Babylon were convinced God would never permit Jerusalem to be destroyed. It was destroyed. Then they were just as convinced their city would be rebuilt quickly and they would rebuild it.

God will take care of it, not you; in God’s time, not yours, Ezechiel insists.

Hard times then and now bring out different responses. God is absent, some say. Hard times are blessed times, Ezechiel says. God is more present than ever in hard times.

Hard times give rise to quick solutions. “This is the answer, I am the answer,” some say. God is the answer, Ezechiel says.

Hard times cause fingers to point blame. “The politicians did it.”
“The liberals, the conservatives did it.” “Look into your own heart,” Ezechiel says, “and ask God for a new one.”

Look at the hard times, don’t ignore or hide from them, but see them with the eyes of God, the prophet says. “Thus says the Lord GOD,” I swear I am coming… I will claim my sheep…I will save my sheep…I myself will look after and tend my sheep.” (Ezekiel 34,1-11)

Good words for us today?

St. Maximilian Kolbe

Maximilian Kolbe

 

Teresa Benedicta

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A number of martyrs have been remembered in our liturgy recently. Last week, August 10th, we remembered Lawrence the Deacon, one of the most important martyrs of the early church. The day before, August 9, we remembered Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Edith Stein, who died in the concentration camp at Auschwitz on that day in 1942.

Today we remember Maximillian Kolbe, a Polish Franciscan priest, who also died in Auschwitz about a year before her, August 14, 1941.

Peter Brown, an historian of early Christianity, says it wasn’t the bravery of Christian martyrs that impressed the Romans. The Romans were a macho people; war was in their blood. They prided themselves on dying bravely.

What the Romans marveled at was how Christian martyrs approached death. They had other values. They saw themselves as citizens of another world; they followed Jesus Christ in how they lived. They believed in his promise of everlasting life.

Lawrence the deacon, for example, could have escaped Roman persecution, but he would not abandon the poor in his care. Taking care of the poor was what Jesus said to do.

Centuries later, Maximillian Kolbe was a priest who wouldn’t abandon the vocation God gave him.

Before World War II, Maximillian Kolbe was active as a Franciscan priest, promoting devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. He ran a large, successful Franciscan printing enterprise in Warsaw.

In 1939, after invading Poland, the Nazi arrested him and a number of other Franciscans and imprisoned them for some months. They ransacked their printing place, probably hoping to intimidate them. Then, they left them go.

Instead of being intimidated, Kolbe began to house refugees from the Nazis, some of them Jews. That got him into trouble, so he was arrested again, on February 14th, 1941, and sent to Auschwitz to do hard labor.

Concentration camps like the one at Auschwitz where Maximillian Kolbe and Sr.Teresa Benedicta died are the nearest thing to Calvary in modern times. More than 1500 of them were spread mostly through German occupied territories in Europe. Twenty million people died in the camps in the Second World War. 6 million were Jews. 1.3 million people went to Auschwitz; 1,1 million died there.

Five months after Kolbe entered Auschwitz, in July 1941, a prisoner from his barracks escaped. In reprisal, the Nazis took 10 men from the barracks to put them to death by starvation. One of them cried out that he had a wife and children who would never see him again. Father Kolbe stepped forward and offered to take the man’s place.

He was the last of the ten men to die of starvation and an injection of carbolic acid two weeks later, on August 14, 1941.

Many stories of Kolbe’s ministry among the prisoners in Auschwitz were told after his death when Auschwitz was liberated. He was canonized by Pope John Paul II on October 19, 1983, who called him “Patron Saint of Our Difficult Age.”

He was a sign of God’s love in a place where God seemed absent.

Maximillian Kolbe’s death on the vigil of Mary’s Assumption into Heaven has been seen as a further sign. God’s hand reached into the dark horror of Calvary to save his Son. God reached out to Mary to bring her, body and soul, to heaven. God reached into Auschwitz and other camps of horror to bring suffering human beings to glory and peace.

Saint Lawrence, the Deacon

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Church of St. Lawrence, 17th century map

Today’s the Feast of St. Lawrence, the deacon. In the 4th century the Emperor Constantine built a splendid church honoring him on the Via Tiburtina, near one of the major gateways to the city. Why did he build the church? To honor a martyr who died for his faith? The emperor saw plenty of people dying bravely for one cause or another. It had to be something more.

Lawrence was a deacon of the Roman church in the middle of the 3rd century, when Rome began to experience wars and political instability. Gothic tribes were breaching the Roman lines along the Rhine River and the Persians were invading in the east.

The only thing to do was expand the army, and that’s what the Emperor Valerian did. It was time to build walls and expand armies. That cost money, of course, and in Rome the burden fell heavily on the poor. Famine and plague only worsened their situation.

That’s when the Christian church stepped in to help. Christians were still relatively few in numbers then, not wealthy, but they gave generously to the poor, and the Roman people admired what they saw.

Lawrence, the deacon, was behind this extraordinary Christian effort. After all, Jesus said: “I was hunger, and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, you gave me to drink; I was sick and you visited me.”

Rome’s leaders became upset by the church’s growing popularity. They also wondered if the church’s money couldn’t be channeled towards their war effort. And so, in 257 an edict was published to imprison church leaders and confiscate church money. A second edict in 258 caused blood to flow. Pope Xystus II and four deacons were seized in the catacombs of St. Callistus and executed on August 6th. Lawrence, the deacon, was seized and executed on August 10th. That’s why his feast day is today.

Popular stories later offered a colorful account of Lawrence’s martyrdom shaping his story and the way artists pictured him :

The Roman prefect, anxious for the church’s money, promised Lawrence freedom if he would transfer it over to him. Lawrence asked for three days to get the church’s treasures together for delivery to the prefect’s house. Then, going through the city he gathered all the poor and unfortunate supported by the church and brought them to the prefect’s door. “Here are the church’s treasures,” he told the official, “ – the blind, the lame, the orphans and the old.”

The prefect ordered Lawrence burned alive on a gridiron. Those witnessing his execution said the saint went to his death cheerfully, even joking with his executioners. “Turn me over, I’m done on this side.”

After these events the Roman church gained a flood of converts. Respect for Christianity grew, not just because of its brave martyrs, but because of its outreach to the poor.

I think that’s the reason Constantine built a church honoring Lawrence, not just because he died for his faith, but because of his care of the poor. Besides the church’s political support, the emperor appreciated what it could do for the empire he ruled. It would take care of the poor.

Wherever you go in Rome, you are going to find Lawrence. There are other churches honoring him; he’s often pictured with Peter and Paul, the founders of the Roman church; Michelangelo has him among the blessed at the last judgment in the Sistine Chapel. Lawrence represents something important in the church.

A large fresco of the saint stands at the entrance to the Vatican Museum’s Chapel of Nicholas V with its priceless works of art. Lawrence seems blind to the riches all around him as he boldly proclaims the message inscribed beneath his feet: The Poor are the Treasures of the Church.

They should always be the treasures of the church.

18th Week of the Year

AUGUST 5 SUNDAY EIGHTEENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Ex 16:2-4, 12-15/Eph 4:17, 20-24/Jn 6:24-35 (113)

6 Monday The Transfiguration of the Lord
Feast
Dn 7:9-10, 13-14/2 Pt 1:16-19/Mk 9:2-10 (614)

7 Tuesday
[Saint Sixtus II, Pope, and Companions, Martyrs; Saint Cajetan, Priest]
Jer 30:1-2, 12-15, 18-22/Mt 14:22-36 or 15:1-2, 10-14 (408)

8 Wednesday Saint Dominic, Priest
Memorial
Jer 31:1-7/Mt 15:21-28 (409)

9 Thursday
[Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, Virgin and Martyr]
Jer 31:31-34/Mt 16:13-23 (410)

10 Friday Saint Lawrence, Deacon and Martyr
Feast
2 Cor 9:6-10/Jn 12:24-26 (618)

11 Saturday Saint Clare, Virgin
Memorial
Hb 1:12—2:4/Mt 17:14-20 (412)

St. John Vianney

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Tomorrow August 4th  is the feast of St. John Vianney, (1786-1859) the patron of parish priests. Born in Lyon, France, he had to struggle to become a priest. Once ordained he was made pastor of a small parish in an out of the way place called Ars. “He cared for this parish in a marvelous way by his preaching , his mortification, prayer and good works,” his biography says. He was especially good in hearing confessions and soon people were coming from everywhere to Ars.

Good to pray for parish priests, struggling to minister in the church today as it goes through difficult times of change and questioning.We need more John Vianneys.

John Vianney knew the value of prayer. He wanted to become like St. Francis of Assisi and St. Colette who “used to see our Lord and talk to him as we talk to one another. How unlike them we are! How often we come to church and have no idea what to do and what to ask for. We know how to speak to another human being, but not to God. “

His simple sermons challenged and changed those who heard him.Hurray for simple sermons and priests who preach them.

Parables

by Orlando Hernandez

In this Thursday’s Gospel (Mt 13: 10-17) our Lord is asked by His disciples why He speaks to the crowds in parables. I used to think that in this passage Jesus sounds almost disdainful as He talks of those who “look, but do not see and hear but do not listen or understand.” They do not seem to deserve the healing that in Isaiah’s prophesy God refuses to give them. I think of the harsh sermons that I remember hearing fearfully when I was a child and went to church. We are so undeserving.

However, our Lord is all goodness and mercy. He cannot have bad feelings toward anyone. This is a vital “knowledge of the Kingdom of Heaven” that I feel He has granted me! I truly believe that He loved those “crowds” who mostly rejected what He taught. But, He could not help but point out that, for the most part, “Gross is the heart of this people” and they were unable to “understand within their hearts” that the Creator of the universe was giving them the very gift of Himself
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My wife Berta always tells me that the Passion of our Lord was taking place within Him throughout all His ministry. Jesus must have felt great sorrow as He went about trying to reach the people. They seem to want the miracle and the spectacle, but the message of Salvation and eternal life was beyond them. The Sermon on the Mount was too much for them to understand or accept. Things have not changed. In our modern world what can we followers of Christ tell others that will open their eyes, their understanding, their hearts? Look at Jesus’ frustration in the Gospel. Can we do any better?

I used to think that in Thursday’s Gospel Jesus is saying that He talks to the unbelievers through parables in order to confuse, insult, and reject them. I can’t believe that anymore. In his book “Jesus, a Pilgrimage,” Fr. James Martin says that parables were ways to reach the people through the things they understood: farm life, fishing, home-building, the nature surrounding them, human relations. Jesus must have known that so much of His teaching was beyond their understanding. Perhaps the stories and similes were meant to catch their attention and stimulate their imaginations, like seeds planted hopefully in the soil of their hearts, whether rocky, compacted, weed-ridden, obstinate, or uninterested.

Were the chosen disciples so much better off than these crowds? Yes, Jesus gave them a good amount of healing and knowledge. For His own divine reasons He had also put into their hearts the supernatural gift of faith. But did they really comprehend the vast mystery of God’s Glory and Love? They certainly had a long painful road ahead in order to achieve enough joy and understanding of who Jesus really was in order to become truly committed to the demands of discipleship.

When I sit at Mass I feel like a member of both the undeserving crowd and the circle of disciples. When I hear the modern parables of the priests’ homilies, do I have ears to listen to what God is telling me? When I look around, do I have the eyes to see the presence of the living God in the people that surround me? When the broken, wounded Host is raised before me (“Behold the Lamb of God, Behold Him…”) is my heart pure enough that I might truly see Him, the Eternal God?

Lord, You are such a mystery to me. Sometimes my link to You seems so tenuous. And yet Your gift of faith has been planted in my heart. I do not want to let You go. Please don’t let me go. But, most importantly, I beg You, have mercy on those unbelieving “crowds.” Touch their hearts, show them who You are!

Orlando Hernández