Category Archives: Religion

Matthew, the tax collector


Jews would usually turn away when they passed the customs place where Matthew, the tax-collector, was sitting. But

“As Jesus passed by, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him.”

To celebrate their new friendship, Matthew invited Jesus to a banquet at his house with his friends – other tax collectors like himself – and Jesus came with some of his disciples. They were criticized immediately for breaking one of Capernaum’s social codes. “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus’ answer was quick: “Those who are well do not need a physician, but the sick do.

Go and learn the meaning of the words `I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

Hardly anything is known of Matthew’s part in Jesus’ later ministry, yet surely the tradition must be correct that says he recorded much of what Jesus said and did. A tax-collector would be good at keeping books; did Matthew keep memories? Are there some things that happened that were especially related to him?

The gospels say that wherever Jesus went he was welcomed by tax collectors. When he entered Jericho, Zachaeus, the chief tax collector of the city, climbed a tree to see him pass, since the crowds were so great. Did Matthew point out to Jesus the man in the tree, a tax collector like himself, and then bring them all to Zachaeus’ house, where Jesus left his blessing of salvation? And did tax collectors in other towns come to Jesus because they recognized one of their own among his companions?

Probably so. Jesus always looked kindly on outsiders like Matthew who were targets of so much suspicion and resentment. True, they belonged to a compromised profession tainted by greed, dishonesty and bribery. Their dealings were not always according to the fine line of right or wrong.

But still, they were children of God and, like lost sheep, Jesus would not let them be lost.

It’s interesting to note that Pope Francis told a group of bishops recently that he got his vocation to be a priest on the Feast of St. Matthew 60 years ago, when he went to confession and heard God’s call, a call of mercy.

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Divine Flute Player

by Orlando Hernandez

In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Lk 7;31-35) Jesus tells the crowds :

“To what shall I compare the people of this generation? What are they like? They are like children who sit in the marketplace and call to one another,
‘We played the flute for you, but you did not dance.
We sand a dirge, but you did not weep.’ “.

In the previous verses our Lord had been reflecting on the person of John the Baptist. Jesus now speaks with regard to the way so many people rejected John’s stark message of repentance and asceticism (the “dirge”). He is also saddened by the way His message of forgiveness, inclusion, gladness, and salvation is also rejected as perhaps too lenient, too loose, too much like party music.

In our generation, what will satisfy us? My Lord offers me the joy of an eternity in His Glory, and I often find myself looking the other way, at the pleasures and ideas of this world. Why do I do this? Why am I blind and deaf? I suffer frustration and depression when I look at the news and see the sad condition of our planet. My Lord invites me to go into this heart of darkness with Him and do something about it. But nooo, it’s too hard for me. Let me vegetate in front of the TV.

But He returns, inviting again and again until He becomes irresistible. Like the Pied Piper, He arrives with His flute, playing the most delightful melody, a love song, a dance that can make us “rejoice, and leap for joy”. So we follow Him up the mountain. There are crosses waiting at the top. The poverty, the hunger, the mourning, the intolerance of this world are always there waiting for us. He bears them on His body. He carries us. The tune becomes a song of mourning. We’re invited to die with Him.

But resurrection follows, my faith tells me so. Love is stronger than death. The jovial music returns. There is a purpose to life. The Beloved One embraces us into His glorified body. We’re lost in an endless sea of Goodness. “Dissolved and brought to a deep, conscious, felt knowledge of the Divinity”, Paul of the Cross writes. Nothing can be better than that. We are strengthened and inspired by His Grace to love and help our neighbor.

Lord, open my eyes to see the marvelous treasures that You offer to all of us.! Open my ears to hear Your Song of Life.

Orlando Hernandez

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United Nations: World Leaders Meet


“ Our Sister Earth cries out, pleading that we take another course. Never have we so hurt and mistreated our common home as we have in the last two hundred years. Yet we are called to be instruments of God our Father, so that our planet might be what he desired when he created it and correspond with his plan for peace, beauty and fullness.

The problem is that we still lack the culture needed to confront this crisis. We lack leadership capable of striking out on new paths and meeting the needs of the present with concern for all and without prejudice towards coming generations. The establishment of a legal framework which can set clear boundaries and ensure the protection of ecosystems has become indispensable; otherwise, the new power structures based on the techno-economic paradigm may overwhelm not only our politics but also freedom and justice.

It is remarkable how weak international political responses have been. The failure of global summits on the environment make it plain that our politics are subject to technology and finance. There are too many special interests, and economic interests easily end up trumping the common good and manipulating information so that their own plans will not be affected. Any genuine attempt by groups within society to introduce change is viewed as a nuisance based on romantic illusions or an obstacle to be circumvented.”

Pope Francis, Laudato SI 54-55

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Feasts are for Reflection

Ryrson cross
Feasts are times to reflect. The Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, September 15th, is an important feast for my community, the Passionists. Mary is the first disciple of Jesus and a model for anyone who wishes to follow him.

The gospel reading for the feast from St. John says simply that Mary stood by the cross of Jesus. She’s a brave woman, not afraid to come close to the fearful place where Jesus was put to death. The Book of Judith, ordinarily the 1st reading for the feast, praises Judith, the brave and wise Jewish woman who’s not afraid to stand with her people at a dangerous moment in their history. Two women of courage face suffering and the challenge it brings.

The prayers, traditions and art of this feast take up the theme of Mary standing by the cross. She’s remembered  in poetry, music and art. “Stabat Mater” Here’s an example in Gregorian Chant and Pergolesi’s magnificent baroque setting.

At the cross her station keeping
Stood the mournful mother keeping
Close to Jesus to the last.

Blessed Dominic Barberi, in his reflections on Mary’s sorrows, emphasizes that Mary is a mother, the new Eve and a follower of Abraham, who hopes even as his son faces death. Dominic places particular emphasis on Mary’s ties to Jesus as his mother, ties of flesh and blood.

Her motherhood provides another strong tradition that  appears in early medieval art – the Pieta– the Mother holding her dead Son in her arms on Calvary. Where did this come from? Some say it comes, not from the gospels which make no mention of it, but from the writings of mystics like St. Bridgid of Sweden, a mother who saw the life of Jesus, particularly his passion, through a mother’s eyes.

The women mystics, many of them pilgrims to the Holy Land, could not imagine Mary not taking the body of her dead Son into her arms when taken down from the cross.

The 13th century icon above, from the Ryerson collection from the Art Institute of Chicago once belonged to a European pilgrim to the Holy Land who brought it back as a reminder of a pilgrimage. It probably reflects the two traditions. Mary, a mother, holds her Son at birth and she stands at his cross at death.

An alternate gospel for the feast recalls Mary’s loss of the Child Jesus in the temple. Mary’s sorrows were not limited to Calvary; they were lifelong.

A study of the Pieta in art in early medieval France explores the diversity of this scene before Michaelangelo’s Pieta became an overpowering icon. “Often she is viewed as caught up in the horror of the moment, but she is also shown praying or even gazing into the distance, as if contemplating comforting memories or the reunion to come. Her demeanor ranges from youthful innocence—the Purity that Time cannot age—to careworn maturity—Our Lady of Sorrows.”

Sorrow has a range of faces.

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24th Sunday: Forgiveness, Seventy-seven Times?

 

For this week’s homily, please play the video file below:

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Our Lady of Sorrows: September 15

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There were also women looking on from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of the younger James and of Joses, and Salome. These women had followed him when he was in Galilee and ministered to him. There were also many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem.”  That’s how Mark’s gospel describes some onlookers at Jesus’ crucifixion. (Mark 15,40-41)

John’s gospel brings some of the women closer. He places Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing at the cross itself. “Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.”

She stands, close by,  not at a distance, not afraid to see, not absorbed in her own suffering, not disengaged from him or his sufferings. She enters into the mystery of the cross through compassion, which doesn’t experience his suffering exactly, but enters it to break the isolation suffering causes and helps someone bear their burden.  The sword, the spear, pierces both hearts, but in a different way.

Compassion is a necessary part of the mystery of the cross.

The Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, which we celebrate in the Roman calendar  on September 15th, was placed after the Feast of the Triumph of the Cross (September 14) only recently, in the 20th century by Pope Pius X.  He took the feast,  formerly the Feast of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, and placed it on this date which is the octave of Mary’s birth (September 7).

The prayer for today’s feast says that when her Son “was lifted high on the Cross” his mother stood by and shared his suffering, but as yesterday’s feast of the Triumph of the Cross makes clear, Jesus  lifted high draws all to himself to share in his resurrection.

Compassion leads to a share in Jesus’ resurrection.

For a commentary on John’s Gospel see here.

For a study on Mary on Calvary see here.

For readings for the feast and the Stabat Mater see here.

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The Triumph of the Cross: September 14

 

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Pilgims enteing the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, Jerusalem

This ancient ecumenical feast,  celebrated by Christian churches throughout the world, originated in Jerusalem at the place where Jesus died and rose again. There, a great church was built by the Emperor Constantine and dedicated September 13, 325 AD, It was called the Anastasis (Resurrection) or the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and became one of Christianity’s holiest places.

Liturgies celebrated in this church, especially its Holy Week liturgy, influenced churches throughout the world. Devotional practices like the Stations of the Cross grew up around this church. Christian pilgrims brought relics and memories from here to every part of the world. Christian mystics were drawn to this church and this feast.

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Tomb of Jesus

Calvary

Calvary

Pilgrims to the church today in Jerusalem’s Old City can visit the tomb of Jesus, recently renovated after sixteen centuries of wars, earthquakes, fires and natural disasters, and also the rock of Calvary where Jesus died on a cross. The building today is smaller and shabbier than the resplendent church of Constantine’s time, because the original structure was largely destroyed in the 1009 by the mad Moslem caliph al-Hakim. Half of the church was hastily rebuilt by the Crusaders, and the present building still bears the scars of time.

Scars of a divided Christendom can also be seen in it. Various Christian groups, representing churches of the east and the west, claim age-old rights and warily guard their separate responsibilities in the place. One hears in this church the difficult challenge Jesus offered when he prayed that ” All may be one.”

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Egyptian Coptic Christians

Seventeenth century Enlightenment scholars  expressed doubts about the authenticity of Jesus’ tomb and the place where he died, Calvary. Is this really it? Alternative spots have been proposed, but scientific opinion today favors this site as the place where Jesus suffered, died and was buried.

For more on the history of this place, see here.

And a video here.

Readings for the Triumph of the Cross

 

 

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“Do not forget the works of the Lord!” (Psalm 78, Responsorial Psalm) We can’t forget Jesus Christ. Like those before us, we seek and inquire after God again and again; we remember God our rock, the Most High God, our redeemer. Don’t forget Jesus Christ who “emptied himself.” His cross lifts us up.

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