Category Archives: Passionists

Learning in Bad Times

I find myself turning away from the news on television these days. I don’t think I’m the only one. The pandemic only seems to be getting worse, and we’re getting worse with it.

So we turn to the Good News.

I’m finding the Gospel of Matthew, which we’re reading these weekdays and on Sundays, helpful. It was written for people struggling with bad times.

The bad times were around the year AD 90 when the followers of Jesus in Galilee were reeling from the attacks of a resurgent Judaism. Those attacks are described in Chapters 10-12 of Matthew’s gospel.

Instead of closing their eyes and hanging on tight, Jesus tells his disciples to open their eyes and their ears, because there’s something for them to learn. “Blessed are your eyes, because they see and your ears because they hear. Many prophets and righteous people longed to see what you see but did not see it and hear what you hear and did not hear it”  (Matthew 13:16-17). He says that as he teaches them in parables.

Bad times can be the best times to learn. Some of the best things we know; some of the best insights we have;  some of the most creative thoughts may come in bad times. God doesn’t stop speaking or teaching in bad times; God sows seeds and opens new avenues. New treasures, new pearls are there to be discovered in the ground we walk over and the jumble of things that seem to overwhelm us.

We will be reading soon the parables of the treasure hidden in the field and the pearl of great price and the net that pulls up a bewildering variety of things from the sea.  It’s a message continued in the mystery of the Passion of Jesus. The disciples saw only death and failure there at first, but then they saw treasures in the wounds, the blood and water that flowed from his side, the words he said.

We don’t have to turn away from bad times. They’re times to keep your eyes and ears open, Jesus says. Like his first disciples, we should pray, not for blinders, but for “understanding hearts.”

An Immense Sea

View_of_Cliffs_of_Moher
Cliffs of Moher, Ireland

Did St. Gregory of Nyssa ever stand at a place like this? He must have:

“The feelings that come as one stands on a high mountain peak and looks down onto some immense sea are the same feelings that come to me when I look out from the high mountain peak of the Lord’s words into the incomprehensible depths of his thoughts.

“When you look at mountains that stand next to the sea, you will often find that they seem to have been cut in half, so that on the side nearest the sea there is a sheer drop and something dropped from the summit will fall straight into the depths. Someone who looks down from such a peak will become dizzy, and so too I become dizzy when I look down from the high peak of these words of the Lord: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“These words offer the sight of God to those whose hearts have been purified and purged. But look: St John says No-one has seen God. The Apostle Paul’s sublime mind goes further still: What no man has seen and no man can see. This is the slippery and crumbling rock that seems to give the mind no support in the heights. Even the teaching of Moses declared God to be a rock that was so inaccessible that our minds could not even approach it: No-one can see the Lord and live.
“To see God is to have eternal life – and yet the pillars of our faith, John and Paul and Moses, say that God cannot be seen. Can you understand the dizziness of a soul that contemplates their words? If God is life, whoever does not see God does not see life. If the prophets and the Apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, attest that God cannot be seen, does this not wreck all the hopes of man?
 “It is the Lord who sustains our floundering hope, just as he sustained Peter when he was floundering in the water, and made the waters firm beneath his feet. If the hand of the Word stretches out to us as well, and sets us firm in a new understanding when these speculations have made us lose our balance, we shall be safe from fear, held safe in the guiding hand of the Word. Blessed, he says, are those who possess a pure heart, for they shall see God.”

Daily Prayer

We celebrate the feast of St. Thomas More today, June 22. Holbein’s painting of More and his family, holding their books, portrays a family that prized learning and prayer. More made sure his daughters were well-educated.

Some of those books, I would say are their prayerbooks, not unusual in those days.. Daily prayer was part of Catholic life and prayerbooks with psalms, prayers and personal reflections were important to those who could read and afford them.

Is the pandemic calling us to personal prayer and prayerbooks (and blogs) today? Our loss of Sunday Mass and parish based sacraments makes us aware we have to fall back on ourselves.. So thank you, More and your family, for reminding us what we might do at home.

The prayer Jesus taught his disciples, the Our Father, was a daily prayer, one of the ways we get ready for what God sends each day. We’re children of God and should act like God’s children each day.

We need to live each day with large vision, doing our part that God’s kingdom come, “on earth as it is in heaven.” We need “daily bread” of all kinds. We’re part of a messy world that’s torn apart by selfishness and smallness and pride. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” We need light to go by the right path. “Deliver us from evil” and guide us to do good.

I don’t think St. Thomas More could have lived so heroically in the world he lived in without daily prayer. It brings vision and grace to us; it’s daily bread.

St. Justin, Philosopher and Martyr (c.100-165 AD)

Justin-Martyr
Justin Martyr

We need Christians today like St. Justin, the 2nd century philosopher, we remember June 1. “We need to make our teaching known,” he said. Still true in our day.

In Justin’s time, philosophers were the mentors and teachers of Roman society and were welcomed in the forum and private homes of the Roman world. St. Paul addressed them in Athens with limited success.

Born in Nablus in Palestine of Greek parents, Justin studied all the philosophers of his time in Alexandria, Athens and Ephesus. It may have been in Ephesus around the year 130 that he encountered Christianity when, walking along the seashore, he met an old man who told him the human heart could never be satisfied by Plato but “the prophets alone announced the truth.”

“After telling me these and other things…he went away and I never saw him again, but a flame kindled in my soul, filling me with love for the prophets and the friends of Christ. I thought about his words and became a philosopher..” (Dialogue 8)

Justin was influenced, not only by Christian teaching, but also by the example of Christians he met:

“I liked Plato’s teaching at first and enjoyed hearing evil spoken about Christians, but then I saw they had no fear of death or other things that horrify, and I realized they were not vicious or pleasure-loving at all.” (Apology 2,12)

Forum q
Ruins of the Roman Forum

As a philosopher Justin championed the cause of Christians who were increasingly being attacked by society. Donning a philosopher’s cloak he taught and wrote in Rome about the year 150 AD. He was a new kind of Christian, a Christian philosopher engaging Roman society on its own terms. He gave Christianity a Roman face and voice.

Justin defended Christians against the charge they were atheists and enemies of the Roman state. Christians were good citizens, he wrote, who pray for Rome, though they don’t worship in temples, who had no statues of gods or who did not participate in the religious rites of the state.  Justin’s writings give us a unique picture of 2nd century Christianity and early Christian worship.

In his “Dialogue with Trypho, the Jew” Justin offered the traditional Christian defense of Christianity to a Jewish antagonist. The Jewish prophets predicted the coming, the death and resurrection of Jesus, Justin argues.

In the documents of Vatican ii, Justin is recognized as an early example of Christian ecumenism. (Evangelium Nuntiandi 53) Through the Word of God all things came to be, he said.  The Word became flesh in Jesus Christ, but Justin linked the biblical Word to the Logos of the philosophers. “Seeds of the Word” were scattered throughout the world, Justin claimed. Every human being possesses in his mind a seed of the Word, and so besides the prophets of the Old Testament, pagan philosophers like Heraclitus, Socrates and Musonius lead us to Jesus Christ, Justin said. (Apology 1,46)

A prolific writer and teacher, Justin was an early Christian intellectual using his talents to promote his faith, Unfortunately only three of his writings come down to us. Other Christian intellectuals followed him, using the tools of philosophy, to dialogue with the Greco-Roman world.

Finally, rivals in Rome pressed charges against Justin as an enemy of the state and he was  brought before a Roman judge along with six companions. Sentenced to death, they were beheaded probably in the year 165 AD. The official court record of their trial  still survives.

Readings for the 6th Week of Easter

Lent 1

17 SUN SIXTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17/1 Pt 3:15-18/Jn 14:15-21

18 Mon Easter Weekday
[Saint John I, Pope and Martyr]
Acts 16:11-15/Jn 15:26—16:4a 

19 Tue Easter Weekday
Acts 16:22-34/Jn 16:5-11

20 Wed Easter Weekday
[Saint Bernardine of Siena, Priest]
Acts 17:15, 22—18:1/Jn 16:12-15

Ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, Philadelphia:

21 Thu THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD (Solemnity and Holy Day of Obligation)
Acts 1:1-11/Eph 1:17-23/Mt 28:16-20 

All Other U.S. Ecclesiastical Provinces:

21 Thu Easter Weekday
[Saint Christopher Magallanes, Priest, and Companions, Martyrs]
Acts 18:1-8/Jn 16:16-20

22 Fri Easter Weekday
[Saint Rita of Cascia, Religious]
Acts 18:9-18/Jn 16:20-23 

23 Sat Easter Weekday
Acts 18:23-28/Jn 16:23b-28

Ecclesiastical Provinces of Boston, Hartford, New York, Newark, Omaha, Philadelphia: 

24 SUN SEVENTH SUNDAY OF EASTER
Acts 1:12-14/1 Pt 4:13-16/Jn 17:1-11a 

All Other U.S. Ecclesiastical Provinces:

24 SUN THE ASCENSION OF THE LORD (Solemnity)
Acts 1:1-11/Eph 1:17-23/Mt 28:16-20

When the Ascension of the Lord is celebrated on the following Sunday, the Second Reading and Gospel from the Seventh Sunday of Easter may be read on the Sixth Sunday of Easter.

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The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on Thursday this week in the eastern United States and on Sunday in the western dioceses. Better to celebrate this feast at the same time, I think.

In the Acts of the Apostles, Paul takes the stage at Athens, the intellectual capitol of the Roman world, but his words chosen carefully are met only with curiosity. “We would like to hear you some other time.” (Wednesday)

Paul gets a better reception in Corinth, not far from Athens, but worlds away from the proud self sufficient city. “Do not be afraid. Go on speaking, and do not be silent, for I am with you.” Jesus says to Paul in a vision. (Friday)

In the reading from Acts on Saturday, Luke reminds us that Paul had great people with him like Priscilla and Aquila, the wife and husband, who instruct Apollos, a good speaker but weak in his theology.  “When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the Way of God more accurately.”

I told a cousin of mine recently who wasn’t sure about a sermon she heard in church. “You may be right and he’s wrong.”

Laudato Si and the Passion of Jesus Christ



The temptation when reading Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si, on creation and our common home–one of our principal guides today– is to see it as a series of political or economic or social recommendations. It’s deeper than that.

“Our goal is not to amass information or to satisfy curiosity, but rather to become painfully aware, to dare to turn what is happening to the world into our own personal suffering and thus to discover what each of us can do about it. (19)

Our present Covid crisis has created another range of personal and global suffering. We need to change the way we see things and do things. The danger is we lose the sense beauty and the good in life as we cover our faces and distance ourselves from the world around us..

I wish I could remember the name a book written years ago by a biologist pointing out the basic health and goodness of our life forms, from the smallest to the greatest. We live in a world where life thrives and not dies.

The mysticism of the Passion of Jesus offers a way to see our new painful situation as a way to life and not death. The Cross is always of tree that brings life;; a garden tomb offers the promise of new harvest. The mysticism of the Passion doesn’t end in suffering and death, but in life and resurrection.

Mystics usually see the connection of things. Are we being called to embrace a passion mysticism now?

I like Francis’ quotation of the Sufi spiritual writer Ali al-Khawas who “stresses that we not put too much distance between creatures of the world and the interior experience of God.” We have to see this present situation as part of the plan of God, a mystery of death and resurrection.

“Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, flies buzz, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted…” (EVA DE VITRAY-MEYEROVITCH [ed.], Anthologie du soufisme, Paris 1978, 200).

As we put on face masks and practice social distancing, let’s not lose sight of the beauty of creation, a sign of God’s presence.