Category Archives: ecumenism


I attended a beautiful Methodist funeral this week at a funeral home in Ocean Grove, New Jersey. I prayed and sang with the members of the family and their friends. Some years ago, before the Second Vatican Council, I would have been told “In no way is it permitted for the faithful to take part in any way in non-Catholic services.” (Canon 1258)

We have come a long way in our relations with other Christian churches and other religions. In the days of St. Francis de Sales in the 16th century, Christian churches were fighting each other over religion. Francis de Sales as the bishop of Geneva, Switzerland, chose to approach religious differences through dialogue and not arms. His approach anticipated the Vatican Council decrees on Ecumenism (Unitatis Redintegratia) and Non-Christian Religions (Nostra Aetate) which told Catholics to respect the religious beliefs of others and dialogue with them.

Dialogue means listening to the other and offering what you know in return. It’s an on-going process that ultimately, I think, has its roots in the created world we live in, which we know little by little. The word “respect”is a beautiful word, meaning “looking again,” Francis de Sales based his spirituality on respect for the variety of creation. We’re “living plants” in the garden of the world. We need to keep “looking again.”

And while we respect others, we need to “look again” at our own tradition to appreciate it and see it “ever ancient, ever new.”

We’re ending the Church Unity Octave on the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul, the Apostle, January 25th. St Francis de Sales, St. Paul the Apostle, St. Paul of the Cross, pray for us.

Ordinary Time and Daily Prayer

We’re back to Ordinary Time in our liturgy after the Feast of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus. Christmas Time is over. Does that mean there’s nothing to do till Lent and the Easter season?

It certainly doesn’t mean we stop praying and living as Christians. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy insists that daily prayer is at the heart of Ordinary Time and it never stops. (SC 2)

More than just affirming daily prayer, the Second Vatican Council strongly recommended that the scriptures become our daily prayer, and it followed its recommendation by creating a lectionary, daily readings of scripture, so that “ the treasures of the bible be opened more lavishly for the faithful at the table of God’s word.” (SC 51)

We’re beginning today to read from the First Book of Samuel and the Gospel of Mark from our lectionary.

The council’s recommendation to read the scriptures as daily prayer is important. If we were living back in 16th century Spain, for example, at the time of St. Theresa of Avila, we would be shocked by it.

At that time, in response to the Protestant Reformation, the Inquisition forbade books of the scripture in the Spanish language to be read by laypeople and even by nuns, and so Teresa and her nuns only knew the bible from what they heard in church and in the sermons preached to them.

Archbishop Rowan Williams has studied the scriptures Teresa, now a doctor of the church, was allowed to hear. She wrote her “Way of Perfection”, her fundamental instruction of prayer, as the Inquisition was cracking down on scripture commentaries. She’s not a teacher, she writes, just a woman, and she’s aware of how careful you have to be in bad times like these, but even though we don’t have books, Teresa writes, we can still learn how to pray from the Our Father, Hail Mary, and the gospel readings that everyone hears.

The Archbishop remarks that despite her diplomatic language you can see Teresa “seething” against the proscription of the Inquisition.

She probably never read the Book of Samuel (Today’s reading about Hannah’s brush with Eli, the priest, would surely have caught her eye). She knew little about the Gospel of Mark, which was hardly read at all in medieval church lectionaries, and she had no access, of course, to the insights into scripture produced by modern biblical studies.

All of this says that Catholics are living at very privileged time after the Vatican Council. But theologians and commentators are also cautioning that we have to be careful of taking what we have for granted and seeing our liturgy as an accomplishment, rather than a work in progress.

We may have before us more readings from the bible than Teresa had, but that doesn’t say that we have assimilated what they mean and that we’ve created the biblical spirituality the council hoped for.

The liturgy is always a “work”, a daily work, an important work, a daily prayer. It’s the “summit” of the Christian life. We’re at the beginning, not at the end.

“Sacred scripture is of the greatest importance in the celebration of the liturgy. For it is from scripture that lessons are read and explained in the homily, and psalms are sung; the prayers, collects, and liturgical songs are scriptural in their inspiration and their force, and it is from the scriptures that actions and signs derive their meaning. Thus to achieve the restoration, progress, and adaptation of the sacred liturgy, it is essential to promote that warm and living love for scripture to which the venerable tradition of both eastern and western rites gives testimony.” (SC 24)

“The treasures of the bible are to be opened up more lavishly, so that richer fare may be provided for the faithful at the table of God’s word. In this way a more representative portion of the holy scriptures will be read to the people in the course of a prescribed number of years.” (SC 51)

Mary Gardens

Andrea Oliva Florenda, a professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, offered a day of reflection on Mary Gardens, December 1 at Bishop Molloy Retreat Center, Jamaica, New York. Professor Florenda teaches in the department of theology and religious studies at St. John’s, specializing in Marian theology. She’s also the designer and curator of the Marian Garden at the university.

Mary Gardens, dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, appeared in Europe following the Black Death, a pandemic that caused millions of deaths in that part of the world in the 14th century. The gardens, usually found in monasteries and religious shrines, brought hope to people walking “in the shadow of death.”

God placed Adam and Eve in a garden, Christian tradition 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 appeared as a garden enclosed, flowers, plants and trees surrounded her, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” The Mary Garden, which became a favorite inspiration for medieval and renaissance artists, brought the promise of life to the “poor banished children of Eve.”

Does the Mary Garden have a role today in a world facing climate change and environmental degradation? Professor Florenda thinks it does. Besides the mysteries of faith, it teaches reverence for creation, for the soil, for plants that feed us and bring healing, for flowers that nourish our sense of beauty.

Certainly science and technology have a large part to play in the current environmental movement, but Professor Florenda notes the number of young people, from various religious tradition drawn to her Mary Garden at St. John’s, where the mysteries of seed and soil unfold, where pharmacy students study medicinal herbs and seasonal vegetables feed the poor.

The day of reflection on Mary Gardens ended at the grotto honoring Mary in the garden of Immaculate Conception Monastery in Jamaica. There, Professor Florenda spoke about the meaning of the grotto, its structure and the plants and trees surrounding it.

“There is a language in each flower,
that opens to the eye,
A voiceless but a magic power.
A prayer in earth’s blossoms lie.” Anonymous

The Disciple

By Orlando Hernandez

In this Wednesday’s Gospel (Lk 10: 1-9) it says:

The Lord Jesus appointed seventy-two disciples whom He sent ahead of Him in pairs to every town and place He intended to visit. He said to them, “ The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest. Go on your way; behold, I am sending you like lambs among wolves. Carry no money bag, no sack, no sandals; and greet no one along the way. Into whatever house you enter, first say, ‘ Peace to this household.’ If a peaceful person lives there, your peace will rest on him; but if not, it will return to you. Stay in the same house and eat and drink what is offered to you, for the laborer deserves payment. Do not move about from one house to another. Whatever town you enter and they welcome you, eat what is set before you, cure the sick in it and say to them, ‘ The Kingdom of God is at hand for you.’”

A friend of ours has been a member of our prayer group at the Passionist Monastery in Jamaica, Queens for the past two years. Through a series of unfortunate events, a few months ago, he lost the apartment that he had inherited from his parents. His Social Security check is not enough for him to get a place, and he has no family left, so he lives in a homeless shelter in Brooklyn. He is trying to get affordable housing through the social workers there. It has been a slow process.

Like the apostles that Jesus sent out he’s practically penniless and homeless, and lives out there like a “lamb among wolves.” He takes a series of trains so the he can come from Bedford-Stuyvesant to the Jamaica Monastery for Mass during the week, and to celebrate the Eucharist and praise the Lord with our prayer group on Sundays. We have raised a decent sum of money for him, but he prefers that we hold it until he can get a place of his own. One of the members of our group is dealing with the social workers to work something out so that he can rent an apartment in her house. We are waiting to see what happens.

He is lonely. He loves the company of our prayer group. He comes with an affable disposition and a positive attitude. He enters our chapel where he is indeed welcomed, and can “eat and drink” the best food in the world. He loves to praise and dance with our group, but sometimes he just sits there quietly and looks quite sad. People come and pray over him, and ask him how they can help him. He’s embarrassed and says he’s okey.

Sometimes he tells me that he thinks that God has put him in the doghouse and he doesn’t know why, but he keeps on coming, and praying, and participating. The other day I realized that he was like those 72 homeless disciples, coming to our House of God to bring his peace and brotherhood to all of us, to share his dignity, his patience and his faith —to represent our Lord. My spiritual director, Fr. John Powers,CP, says that being in need is one of the greatest ministries. It can inspire us to empathy, compassion, respect, and sacrifice for our hurting brothers and sisters. Jesus is there in so many ways. Our beautiful, humble, persevering friend is indeed coming to announce Jesus, to tell us by his very presence “The Kingdom of Heaven is at hand for you.”

Orlando Hernandez