Category Archives: Inspiration

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.”
Amen.

Orlando Hernández

10th WEEK OF THE YEAR

JUNE 10 SUN TENTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME
Gn 3:9-15/2 Cor 4:13—5:1/Mk 3:20-35 (89)

11 Mon Saint Barnabas, Apostle
Memorial
Acts 11:21b-26; 13:1-3 (580)/Mt 5:1-12 (359)

12 Tue Blessed Lorenzo Salvi, Passionist
1 Kgs 17:7-16/Mt 5:13-16 (360)

13 Wed Saint Anthony of Padua, Priest and Doctor of the Church
Memorial
1 Kgs 18:20-39/Mt 5:17-19 (361)

14 Thu Weekday
1 Kgs 18:41-46/Mt 5:20-26 (362)

15 Fri Weekday
1 Kgs 19:9a, 11-16/Mt 5:27-32 (363)

16 Sat Weekday
[BVM]
1 Kgs 19:19-21/Mt 5:33-37 (364)

Our first readings this week and next are from the Book of Kings–the story of Elijah, the prophet, who challenges Ahab the King of Israel and his notorious wife Jezebel. Elijah is a powerful prophet, one of the greatest of the prophets, who raises people from the dead and brings fire from heaven on his enemies, yet he left no writings; we know him mainly from the life he led.

In the First Book of Kings, Elijah is on the run most of the time, Ahab and his wife in pursuit. We follow him from water hole to water hole, hiding in mountain caves and isolated wadis in the desert, with scarcely enough to eat.

A difficult, humbling flight. Elijah appears in an icon hand to his head, wondering if he will make it, even as a raven hovers behind him bringing bread for the day. He makes it through a desperate drought, thanks to a poor widow who helps him out.

The powerful prophet is helpless, but God keep him going. And Elijah learns from experience how to see, so he sees God’s redeeming presence in a tiny far-off cloud and the whisper of a wind that says God is here.

Three holy people are remembered this week. St. Barnabas, a companion of Paul, is remembered on Monday. The Passionists remember Blessed Lorenzo Salvi on Tuesday, and the popular St. Anthony of Padua is remembered on Wednesday.

“Dissolved in Flames?”

In the coming “day of God…the heavens will be dissolved in flames and the elements melted by fire.” (2 Peter 3, 12-15) That’s a strong picture of the last days in the 2nd Letter of Peter we read today at Mass. Commentators say it’s the only place in the New Testament that predicts the world ending in fire.

Some years ago, after the Newshour in the evening, I would sometimes turn to the next channel on television to watch Harold Camping, a crusty old evangelist who was predicting the world ending in fire. The world was going to be burnt to a crisp and unless you explicitly professed faith in Jesus Christ you were going to go up in flames too.

Harold even figured out when it was going to happen, 6 PM, May 21, 2011. and if you wrote in he would send you his calculations. People called in with questions, some humorous. “Should I pay my income tax this year?” Some were sad. “My little boy can’t speak yet and profess his belief in Jesus. What about him?” Harold skirted that question.

May 21 came and nothing happened. I thought I was the only one listening to Harold until I noticed advertisements in the buses weeks before for “D Day May 21.” The day after May 21 I mentioned it to some people and one of them said she called her daughter who was driving over the Brooklyn Bridge that day to get off the bridge as soon as she could.

Harold said on a later broadcast he was recalculating the date, but some time later he died.

Harold isn’t the only one predicting an end for our planet. One of our greatest scientists, Stephen Hawkins, said before he died that we should start a colony in outer space soon because the earth is headed for destruction.

There’s a lot of pessimism in our world today. There was pessimism when the 2nd Letter of Peter was written. The apostles Peter and Paul had been viciously put to death. The City of Rome was almost completely destroyed by fire in the 60s. Jerusalem and the Jewish temple were destroyed by fire in the 70s. Christians were being persecuted and killed. I’m sure a lot of them were saying “This is the end.”

In times of pessimism we need to reaffirm God’s love for humanity and creation itself. That’s why Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si is so important. Care for the earth and respect it, he says. God made our world out of love and promises to renew it.

Care for creation in practical ways, the pope says, but keep creation in mind in our prayers, especially the prayer of the Eucharist.

“In the Eucharist all that has been created finds its greatest exaltation.” Jesus became human; he was made flesh and his humanity comes from the earth. In the Eucharist, he takes bread and wine, which come from the earth, to give life to the world. Through “a fragment of matter” he communes with us.

“ Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed the Eucharist is itself an act of cosmic love: Yes, cosmic! Because even when it is celebrated on the humble altar of a country church, the Eucharist is always in some way celebrated on the altar of the world”.[166]

“Creation is projected towards divinization, towards the holy wedding feast, towards unification with the Creator himself”.[LS 167]

God won’t destroy creation. He loves it and finds it good.

The Mary Garden

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

On the Feast of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, May 31, we began our Mary Garden at Immaculate Conception Monastery in Jamaica, New York.

Mary Gardens, dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, appeared in 14th century Europe following the Black Death, a pandemic that caused millions to die in that part of the world. The gardens, usually found in monasteries and religious shrines, brought hope to people who feared the earth was bringing them death.

God gave Adam and Eve a garden, the Book of Genesis says. (Genesis 2, 8-28) Rising from the dead, Jesus proclaimed eternal life in a garden. (John 20,11-18) For early and medieval Christians, Mary, the Mother of Jesus, was like a garden enclosed, flowers, plants and trees surrounded her, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” As the “Mother of the living” she brought the promise of life to our world, Jesus, her Son.

Can a Mary Garden bring hope today to our world that faces climate change and environmental degradation? Mary reminds us creation is a gift of God’s love. A Mary Garden teaches reverence for creation, for the soil, for plants that feed and bring us healing, for flowers that nourish our sense of beauty.

Yes, science and technology play their part in an environmental crisis, but faith has a part to play. We’re planting a Mary Garden!

A Reading from the Book of Genesis
This is the story of the heavens and the earth at their creation. When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens there were no plants on the earth, no grass on the fields, for the LORD God had sent no rain and there were no human beings to till the ground, but a stream was welling up out of the earth and watering all the surface of the ground and the LORD God formed a human being out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and he came to life.
The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east,* and placed there the one whom he had formed… to cultivate and care for it. (Gen 2, 4-15)

Let us Pray

Praise the Lord who is good,
Sing to our God who is loving,
To the Lord our praise is due.

Who covers the heavens with clouds
and prepares the rain for the earth.
And makes mountains sprout with grain
and plants to serve our needs

You know the number of the stars
and call each one by name.
Bless the earth we break open today
O Lord,
to be a garden in praise of your name,
where we honor Mary, the mother of your Son.

We remember your blessings here
which you never cease to send
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

At The Waterfall


By Orlando Hernandez

A good Passionist priest once told me not to be suspicious of the images that come to my mind’s eye during special moments of prayer. He said that God gives us those “pictures” to help us understand the power and mystery of His love. The fragment from verse 5 of the 5th Chapter of
St. Paul’s letter to the Romans has always had such an influence on my imagination (or vision?) : “ The love of God has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.”

At my son’s Parish in Florida which has a large, powerful, Pentecostal-style choir, I often find myself in the middle of Mass feeling as if a glorious waterfall is raining over all of us in that church, especially on my beloved grandchildren, who see me crying and try to “console” me! During many prayer meetings at the Passionist Monastery in NY, as we sing, praise, and pray over people, I have “seen” this unbearably bright, milk-like substance fall upon us and splash all over the chapel. At times of great peace I can actually feel the grace of God falling upon the world like mist from a waterfall.

Last month, Fr. Chris Cleary CP, spoke to us on a Day of Reflection at Bishop Molloy Retreat House in Queens, NY. He was talking about the Holy Spirit in our everyday lives, how the Spirit leads us to see God in everyone around us. It was a very moving presentation. It truly spoke to me, sometimes I tend to ignore those around me. And then, at the end, he invited us to close our eyes and let him lead us through a meditation. He took us through green pastures, hills, and forests until we got to a lovely waterfall. He invited us to sit on a rock and within that “holy space” imagine Jesus coming and sitting with each one of us. I enjoy these meditations. They can be interesting or even entertaining, but that day, oh boy, I was TAKEN by it. I really met my Lord at the waterfall. It was so overwhelming and mysterious that I do not have the images or words to describe what I saw, heard and felt. I guess the Lord decided to hit me hard that day, and He did !

The waterfall in the vision was an actual place that I love, The Upper Falls of Kaaterskill Creek in the Catskill Mountains of New York state. My wife Berta loves the place too, so the next week we drove the three-plus hours to the place. I wanted to “meet” Jesus there to re-live the meditation experience. The one-mile hike is not that hard, but I still had to use my cane. My wife and I held each other as we negotiated the slippery rocks on the trail. We finally got there and it was awesome. Because of the recent rains the water was roaring over the edge of the 100 feet-high cliff that was looming over us. Cool midst would fog up my glasses within seconds, but we found a fairly dry, comfortable rock near the edge of the cliff behind us, where the creek poured over the Lower Falls into the vast mountain ravine.

We sat there looking at the ghostly patterns formed by the falling water before us, and “waiting” for Jesus. Well, it wasn’t at all like my experience during the meditation. The place was full of people! There were various young persons hopping from rock to rock, climbing up the grotto behind the waterfall. There were dogs of all sizes and colors carefully held in leashes by their owners. And many children- the older ones trying to skip to the other side of the creek, getting their feet soaked, the little ones vey carefully watched and chased by their parents. People came and went. We had a nice lunch at our rock and watched and watched the falling water and the people until it was time to scramble back up the trail to our car.

Oh well, no intimate communion with Jesus, no precious mystical moment, no deep prayer. Such gifts, as we all have to accept, come in God’s own time. But now, in retrospect, I remember that day with such gladness. Of course our Lord was there. He was there in His people, His lovely children. They actually did not bother me at all. They were nice to look at! We were all sharing in the miracle of God’s creative power. Even if we did not realize it we were sharing a blessed moment. We were in a “holy space”. I just did not appreciate it at that time.

Today I remember the original intent of Fr. Chris’ talk. We can find God in the most ordinary moments. The Holy Spirit is present in all the people that crowd our spaces. And I thank God that I now re-live the happiness that I felt there, so close to my wife and even to those around us as the love of God was being poured unto us.

By Orlando Hernandez

The Journey to Jerusalem

We’re reading about the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem from the 10th chapter of Mark’s gospel these days at Mass. Matthew offers a similar account in the 19th and 20th chapters of his gospel.

Jesus doesn’t go to Jerusalem alone, he invites others to go with him. The journey’s more than a couple of days, it’s a journey to life, to resurrection. But human beings make the journey, and they react like human beings do, especially as they hear the warnings Jesus gives and his call to follow him unreservedly.

You can’t miss human weakness in the journey stories of Mark’s and Matthew’s gospel, beginning with the Pharisees who dispute with Jesus. I suppose they represent human doubt and questioning that’s always there. The disciples rebuked the women bringing their children forJesus’ blessing, and Jesus rebukes them. They need to be like children to make the journey, but they’re not. The rich young man wants to hold on to what he has, so he goes away sad. Peter says proudly he’ s given up everything to follow Jesus, but we know how inconstant he is. The story of the brothers, James and John, which we read tomorrow, is obviously a story of human ambition.

We have the Feast of the Visitation Thursday, so we won’t hear the important conclusion of Mark’s 10th Chapter, when Jesus, leaving Jericho “with his disciples and a sizable crowd” meets a blind man. He cures the blind man and all of them go up to Jerusalem. God’s grace is greater than human weakness.

1 Hundred Guilder Print

Rembrandt Hundred Guilder Print

Matthew offers Mark’s stories in chapter 19 and 20 of his gospel. The artist Rembrandt drew a remarkable picture of the 19th and 20th chapter of Matthew called the Hundred Guilder Print.

Jesus stands at the center of Rembrandt’s work, bathed in light, his hands outstretched to the crowds before him.

Peter stands at Jesus right, close by. Other disciples, probably James and John, are next to him. Women and their children, whom the disciples told to go away, are next to them. The rich young man is also there in the crowd. He seems to be reconsidering.

Some of the enemies of Jesus who plotted against him and argued with him are also there, talking among themselves, but they’re still in the picture. Rembrandt even pictures the camel, back by the city gates.

Jesus sheds his light on them all. His arms are open to them all. Rembrandt has it right. Grace is more powerful than human weakness. It’s everywhere.

8th Week of the Year

 

Graphic Pentecost

May 27 SUN THE MOST HOLY TRINITY
Solemnity
Dt 4:32-34, 39-40/Rom 8:14-17/Mt 28:16-20 (165)

28 Mon Weekday (Eighth Week in Ordinary Time)
1 Pt 1:3-9/Mk 10:17-27 (347)

29 Tue Weekday
1 Pt 1:10-16/Mk 10:28-31 (348)

30 Wed Weekday
1 Pt 1:18-25/Mk 10:32-45 (349)

31 Thu The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Feast
Zep 3:14-18a or Rom 12:9-16/Lk 1:39-56 (572)

June 1 Fri Saint Justin, Martyr
Memorial
1 Pt 4:7-13/Mk 11:11-26 (351)

2 Sat Weekday
[Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Martyrs; BVM]
Jude 17, 20b-25/Mk 11:27-33 (352)

The First Letter of Peter, read this week, was written from Rome by Peter, the apostle, to Christians threatened by persecution, ancient tradition says. Some modern scholars question if Peter himself wrote it and suggest a later author wrote using his name. You can hear in the readings early baptismal teaching which the author uses to remind his listeners who they are.

In chapters 10 and 11 of Mark’s gospel, Jesus begins his journey to Jerusalem, a journey many do not understand and, like the rich young man, they decide not to join him. James and John also thought his journey would bring power and prestige, but it was not to be. We hear in these readings lessons for the Roman church of the 70s, but the lessons are also meant for us..

A feast of Mary occurs every month in the calendar. This month it’s the Visitation (May 31), placed in the calendar between the Feast of the Annunciation (March 15) and the Birth of John the Baptist (June 24) We’re reminded of Mary’s role as a bearer of good news to her older cousin Elizabeth, who will give birth to John. Mary always brings her Son to us too.