Category Archives: ecumenism

Why Read the Old Testament?

Some people complain about the selections from the Old Testament we’re reading at weekday Mass these past few weeks. Too long, they say, they don’t tell us anything. They’d rather hear what Jesus is saying and doing.

Why do we read from the Old Testament? Reading from the Old Testament is a lot like reading from the New York Times or the Daily News, or following David Muir on ABC each evening. You’re not going to hear much about Jesus there either. The media gives us the news of the day as it happens and, especially these days, it’s not encouraging.

Not much encouraging news in our Old Testament reading today from the Book of Numbers either. (Numbers 13-14) Giants are out there blocking the way to the promised land. Israel’s scouts face giants as they reconnoiter the world ahead. There’s no way ahead.

Our media tells us the same: giants are blocking our way– North Korea, the Middle East, storms from climate change, political giants who seem to get in the way of a world of justice and peace. And we don’t have answers what to do.

But the Old Testament tells us more than the media. It’s salvation history. More than the story of the Jews, the Old Testament is the story of the human race and all creation on a journey, from the beginning of time to its end. Human sinfulness, tragedies and delays are there, but the story begins and ends in hope. God is there.

That makes the Old Testament stories so different from the stories the media serves up everyday. God is there from the beginning. That’s the way our selection today from the Book of Numbers begins: “The LORD said to Moses [in the desert of Paran,]‘Send men to reconnoiter the land of Canaan,
which I am giving the children of Israel.’” And God is there as his people experience the consequences of their foolishness and lack of faith.

The columnist David Brooks in the Times yesterday said he has to think less about Donald Trump or he’s going to go crazy. He needs to think more about the deeper shifts taking place in society, he says.

I wonder if thinking about the deeper shifts is enough to stop you from going crazy these days. We need hope from another source. That’s where the Old Testament and the rest of the scriptures comes in. Some prefer calling it the “First Testament.” It testifies that the first thing to keep in mind about time is that God is there, from beginning to the end. God is our Savior.


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August is Here

At the start of each month I email members of the Confraternity of the Passion and anyone else who asks a calendar indicating the scripture readings for the Mass and the feast days of the saints we remember that month.

The reason I do is that following the church calendar is an important way to grow in faith.It puts us in touch with the scriptures in our daily lectionary and the wonderful world of the saints.

Reading the daily scriptures together with fellow believers throughout the world develops a common mind, as it were. Fortunately, not just Catholics use the daily lectionary, some Protestant churches use it now too; so more Christians read the same scriptures together through the year.

Praying together can bring us together, we hope. Praying the scriptures together, which the Catholic church encouraged at the Second Vatican Council, is a step towards Christian unity. Blessed Dominic Barberi, Passionist whose feast is August 26th was especially dedicated to the work of Christian unity.

This month at Mass we continue reading from Matthew’s gospel. With chapter 14, Jesus begins to establish his church, built on Peter, a rock, but a frail man who with the other disciples must follow Jesus to the cross.

The following chapters from Matthew offer an instruction about the nature of the church. Its members must care for each other and forgive those who have offended them. At the same time they’re obliged to correct their fellow Christians, even to the point of separation from the community. (Matthew 18)

During the first few weeks of August we’ll continue reading from the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Deuteronomy and Numbers about the Jewish exodus from Egypt led by Moses. Then we’ll read about their occupation of Canaan under Joshua and the Judges.

It’s a brutal occupation. Our lectionary softens our exposure to it by limiting what we read about it, but even so, why the violence? Why so many exterminated in the name of God? The scriptures raise questions and cause objections as well as give answers and raise our hopes.

Here’s where good commentaries and wise answers help; otherwise, we lapse into biblical fundamentalism. I’m reading the commentaries from the New American Bible, which recognize we can’t read these books as literal history. There’s a human hand at work in them.

God reveals himself progressively to the human family, which is intent on its own welfare and quick to destroy rather than build. God works in mud. Here’s a quote I like:

“Progressive revelation throughout Israel’s history produced far more lofty ideals, as when the prophets see all the nations embracing faith in Yahweh, being joined to Israel, and living in peace with one another (Is 2:2419:232545:2225Zec 8:2223), and the New Testament teaches us to love even our enemies (Mt 5:4345).” (New American Bible, Commentary)

There’s another way to look at the violence and exterminations found in the Book of Joshua:

“The theological message of the book is unmistakable. God has been faithful to the promise of the land. If Israel relies totally on the Lord for victory; if Israel is united as a people; if the law of herem is kept and no one grows rich from victory in war—then and only then will Israel possess the land.”

We’re a long way from possessing the land. “Your kingdom come.”






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Holy Saturday



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Wednesday: 5th Week of Lent

Readings here

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Receiving a Prophet

In today’s Gospel we read about Jesus’ return to “His native place,” and the reception He got from His peers when He began to teach them. They found it hard to take Him seriously, asking,

    “Is he not the carpenter, the son of Mary, and the brother of James and Joseph and Judas  and Simon?  And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.  Jesus said  to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his native place and among his own kin and in his own house.”

    Why such a reaction?  Why were they not proud of their hometown boy?  We’re they jealous of Him? Did they believe that a humble carpenter’s son had no right to teach about the divine?  Were they startled because He no longer acted like a “regular guy”, one of them?

    When I started testifying about my newfound faith at men’s retreats and at prayer groups, some people would come up to me and thank me for helping them in their search for healing, and for God, while others treated me like I was just some upstart who didn’t know anything! Well, I guess one of the lessons of this Gospel is that you just can’t please everybody, especially if they’re your friends and relatives .

    After my conversion, many of them could not believe that I was for real. One of my drinking buddies winked at me and said, ” You gotta be kidding! Common, have fun. You only live once.” Another said, “Hey, don’t turn into a religious fanatic! That’s not the guy I know! What about that temper?”

    A nice cousin of mine said, “You’re dedicating your life to God now that you’re retired? That’s a nice hobby. I guess you gotta do something with your free time.”

     A very intelligent, cynical, clever friend would use her language skills to prove me wrong, and justify her way of thinking and acting towards others.  I was no match for her smart talk. But another fiercely atheist friend synthesized the feelings of all the others:” Don’t come preaching to me! I don’t want to hear anything about God! If you’re my friend,  let’s talk about anything but that!”

    Like Jesus, I was ” amazed at their lack of faith!” I certainly wasn’t able to perform any “mighty deeds” there, except perhaps keep my composure, shake my head, and smile. I really love these persons. I guess the best I can do is show them this, knowing how much greater than mine is the love that our Lord Jesus has for them.

    If they ask me I will tell them about the peace I feel in my heart. Maybe I’ll be able to show them how I have changed, even if a little, perhaps reflect the words of the scholar of mythology, Joseph Campbell: ” Preachers err by trying to talk people into belief, better they reveal the radiance of their own discoveries.”

    My spiritual director, Fr John Powers C.P., once wrote, ” I begin the telling of my tale with the assumption that my story is, in some measure, everyone’s story.”

Orlando Hernandez


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Pope Leo the Great: Part 2


Pope Leo had to step in when Attila and his army were threatening to destroy Rome. The elite of Roman society had fled the city, the government was gone, the rest were busy securing their own homes in the city. I don’t think Leo, a churchman who was by nature a thinker deeply engaged in the study of spiritual things wanted to meet the dangerous invaders at the city gates, but he did. He rose to accept the responsibility.

When society is in danger because it refuses to face the issues that endanger it, the church can’t flee or look to its own security. It has to step in. That means not only church leaders but every believer has to meet the challenges at our gates today which government and society won’t acknowledge– Climate change and care for the earth, immigration and care of refugees, nuclear disarmament, universal healthcare, global peacekeeping, respect for the family and human rights.

“Remember your leaders who spoke the word of God for you. Consider how their lives ended and imitate their faith. “ (Hebrews 13, 7) (Common of Pastors} Remember Leo.

Tomorrow we have another leader, who fought for the poor when most were concerned for the rich: Martin of Tours. Remember Martin of Tours.

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22nd Sunday C: Friend, Come Up Higher

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Meals of every kind are described in the New Testament. Jesus begins his ministry at a wedding banquet in Cana in Galilee, John’s gospel says. Before his death, he has a meal with his disciples and after his resurrection he has some meals with them again. Martha and Mary and his friends in Bethany celebrate the return of Lazarus from the dead at a meal. His enemies say he ate too many meals with tax-collectors and sinners. Some of Jesus’ most profound teachings and actions take place at a meal.

Today in our reading from Luke’s gospel Jesus is invited to a Sabbath meal at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, but this meal is different from those just mentioned. They were carefully watching him, the gospel says. At a Sabbath meal God is thanked for his gifts, which he gives to all, but at this meal Jesus is being watched. He’s not an ordinary guest as he enters this home. He’s there to be measured and grilled by his hosts and put in his place.

At the time of Jesus it wasn’t unusual for a symposium to take place at a meal, especially in the home of someone like the leading Pharisee in today’s gospel. A symposium was an occasion when there would be a discussion of issues: questions would be raised, controversial matters would be debated. It was a time for people with quick wits and sharp tongues to show off how smart they were.

At this meal Jesus was going to be discussed; questions and controversies about him would be brought up and he would be disposed of. So we might imagine the guests at the Pharisee’s home on that occasion were like spectators at a prize fight, looking for the best seats to watch and maybe even take part in the contest themselves.

If this meal was a symposium, and I think it was, listen carefully to Jesus’ words to those who were there. He doesn’t just tell his hearers about common etiquette; he reminds them what this meal should be all about. This is a Sabbath meal. It’s a time for thanking God for the gift of life. It’s a time for rejoicing, not for showing off how smart you are. This is time when God calls us up higher. “Friend, come up higher.” From our small places here on earth, from the smallness we might consider our lives to be, God calls us up higher. It’s not a time pulling people down with your smart words.

For that same reason, this is a meal where everyone should have a place at the table, not just the wealthy and the privileged, the smart and the powerful, but “the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind.”

Now, that’s what our Mass is about, isn’t it? Our Mass is our Sabbath meal where we give thanks for the gift of life. We give thanks to God. It’s right and just, our prayers say. We do this at all times, “always and everywhere,” but now we do it as disciples with Jesus our Lord. We listen to his word, we come to him in the bread and the wine, and through them he comes to us.

“Lift up your hearts.” “Friend, come up higher.” We lift up our hearts to the Lord. God calls us to come up higher, to see our gifts and the destiny we’re promised, to recognize our relationship with one another, to let go of the fears and doubts that cloud our minds, to feel the peace and hope God wishes us to have. The Mass prepares us for the life beyond this time. . “The Mass is ended. God in peace.” “Thanks be to God.”

Our Mass is a wonderful teacher, and we’re meant to take what it teaches and make it part of the rest of our lives. Let me give you a simple example, since we’re speaking about meals. Suppose we could make our meals, our eating together, Sabbath meals, where we enjoy the gifts of God we find in food and in one another.

That may sound like a strange suggestion. It sounds strange because eating together is becoming a endangered practice today. For one thing, a lot of people eat alone today, or if they come to a meal they might as well be eating alone.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all our meals became times when we experienced those words of the gospel: “Friend, come up higher,” when we build each other up instead of tearing each other down, when we all feel welcome by others, even the stranger and the outsider, when we enjoyed the gifts of God in food and human companionship.

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