Category Archives: Passionists

The Landscape Where Jesus Lived

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We live in a changing church and a changing world. Was it that way always?

Traveling from one part of the Holy Land to another you notice  great changes in the land. If you stand  on the roof of the Passionist house in Bethany, as I did some years ago, you can still see olive trees growing beneath you. The Mount of Olives is just west of us.

Then, looking eastward to Jericho and the Dead Sea, it’s barren desert. Then, as you go from Jericho to Galilee the land turns from desert to lush farmland. A changing landscape.

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Jesus experienced a changing landscape as he left Nazareth for the Jordan River and then the Sea of Galilee;  it influenced him and the way he spoke. His parables are rich with the language of the sower and the seed. Like us, he was influenced by the place were he lived.

In a book written in the 1930s Gustaf Dalman, an expert on the geography and environment of Palestine, observed that Jesus was from the highlands and entered a different world when he left the mountains of Nazareth, 1,100 feet above sea level,  for the fishing towns along the Sea of Galilee, 680 feet below sea level.

For one thing, he ate better – more fish and nuts and fruits were available than in the hill town where he grew up. He looked out at the Sea of Galilee instead of the distant hills and valleys of his mountain village. He saw a great variety of birds, like the white pelicans and black cormorants that challenged the fishermen on the lake. He saw trees and plants and flowers that grew abundantly around the lake, but not around Nazareth.

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Instead of the chalky limestone of Nazareth, Jesus walked on the hard black basalt around the lake. Basalt was the building material for houses and synagogues there. It made for sturdy structures, but they were dark and drab inside. They needed light.

Basalt also made for a rich soil in which everything could grow. “… here plants shoot up more exuberantly than in the limestone district. Where there are fields, they yield a produce greater than anyone has any notion of in the highlands.” (Dalman, p123)

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Accumulating on the rocky land around the lake, the volcanic soil produced a rich harvest. Josephus, the ancient Jewish historian, praised the land for its fruitfulness, its palm trees, fruit trees, walnut trees, vines, wheat. But thistles, wild mustard, wild fennel grew quickly too and choked anything else that was sown. The land around the Sea of Galilee was fertile then; even today it has some of the best farmland in Palestine.

The weather in the low lying lands was not the same as in the mountains, warmer in winter, much hotter and humid in summer, which begins in May. “It is difficult for anyone used to living in the mountains to work by day and sleep by night…Out of doors one misses the refreshing breeze, which the mountains along the lake cut off…one is tempted to think that Jesus, who had settled there, must often have made occasion to escape from this pitiless climate to his beloved mountains.” (Dalman, p. 124)

These observations aren’t found in the gospels, of course, but they help us appreciate the world in which Jesus lived. He was human as well as divine, and in his humanity he was influenced by where he lived, as we are.

And what about us? How are we influenced by our time and place? Doesn’t change affect us too?

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By Faith, Not By Sight

At Mass today we hear St. Paul reflecting on his life in his Second Letter to the Corinthians. “We walk by faith and not by sight,” he says. You can look at yourself by faith or by sight. Obviously, some at Corinth are looking at Paul “by sight,” what they think he is, but Paul sees himself in another way, by faith.

“We are treated as deceivers and yet are truthful;
as unrecognized and yet acknowledged;
as dying and behold we live;
as chastised and yet not put to death;
as sorrowful yet always rejoicing;
as poor yet enriching many;
as having nothing and yet possessing all things.”   ( 2 Corinthians 5,1-16)

Some in Corinth see Paul as a deceiver, a nobody, on his way out, beaten, sorrowful, poor, having nothing. Paul sees himself by another light. The NAB commentary on 2 Corinthians says that, though Paul speaks personally he assumes his experience is shared by other people of faith. We’re all called to walk by faith and not by sight.

And so, how do we see ourselves today?

Today, the 58th year of my priestly ordination, I’m beginning a Mission at St. Mary’s Church in Kingston, New York at 7 PM. It’s the last of the Revive Missions sponsored by the Archdiocese of New York that I’m taking part in.

Some would say the church is responsible for the ills of our world, it’s passing away, beaten, a sad thing, having nothing to say any more. But, Paul begins his reflections proclaiming “Now is an acceptable time. Now is the way to salvation.” So, “We walk by faith, not by sight.”

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Is Our World Sharing in the Sufferings of Christ?

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For the next two weeks at Mass we’re reading St. Paul’s Second Letter to the Corinthians, a Christian community in the city of Corinth around the year 50, shortly after the time of Jesus. Paul’s two letters to the Corinthians are favorite sources of information for historians studying the early Christian church. They also offer us a way to reflect on our own church today.

In the easter season we read from the Acts of the Apostles– St. Luke’s overview of the early Christian church. Beginning with the gospel preached in Jerusalem and ending with its reception in Rome, Luke describes its growth after the resurrection of Jesus mainly through the activity of Peter and Paul.

Now, we turn in our lectionary to the church at Corinth, a early church founded by Paul. What was it like?

Drawn from the different peoples flocking to the great Mediterranean port, the community at Corinth was diverse, and a variety of preachers and teachers attracted its members, causing some division, noticeably as they came together to “break bread.” There’s some sexual immorality in this church, close to the open sea. Some were wondering about the resurrection of Jesus.

This is a church no longer mostly Jewish, though some may have missed the stability a Jewish synagogue brought, despite disagreements over Jesus. As yet there was no bishop administering this church for Paul to contact and work with. He was an apostle, a preacher to the world, speaking as a disciple of Jesus.

Clearly, this is a church  “in the works,” not complete, with glaring weaknesses, struggling to grow in faith, with plenty of loose ends, looking for answers. It’s a church experiencing great change. It’s a church suffering, not from outward persecution, but from turmoil within.

Is this a church like our own?

As he speaks to the Corinthians, Paul sees their sufferings first, which he describes as “Christ’s sufferings”. He’s experiencing that mystery himself, and in the opening chapters of the Second Letter to the Corinthians (which unfortunately are not well represented in our lectionary) Paul begins with that mystery and returns to it over and over.

Yes, there are problems to be faced, corrections must be made, restructuring must take place, but Paul keeps reminding them they are experiencing the sufferings of Christ. With Christ’s suffering, Paul writes, comes his encouragement.

The sufferings of Christ and the encouragement of Christ. Paul knew them both. Preaching in the province of Asia with some companions, “We were utterly weighed down beyond our strength, so that we despaired of life.”  But with the sufferings came an overflowing encouragement, which inevitably accompanies the sufferings of Christ. “We do not trust in ourselves but in God who raises from the dead.” ( 2 Corinthians 1, 5-11)

Can we see in Paul’s way the right way, the first way, to look at our church and our world today? We’re tempted to quickly stand in judgment, to analyze, to condemn, even to throw up our hands and lose hope in the world around us. Do we need to remember the sufferings of Christ, a mystery that falls on all, and the “encouragement” that always accompanies this mystery?

Listen to Paul speaking to the struggling Corinthians:

“Our hope for you is firm, for we know that as you share in the sufferings, you also share in the encouragement,”

Good letter for us to read these days.

“In your wrath, remember compassion.”

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Trinity Sunday

 

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The Hundred Guilder Print

Artists can be good interpreters of scripture. Rembrandt is one of the best. We’re in the second day of a Parish Mission–Revive, at St. Thomas of Canterbury Parish, Cornwall on Hudson, NY. I’ll be reflecting on some of the teachings of Jesus as he makes his way to Jerusalem from Galilee.

Rembrandt does that in his Hundred Guilder Print, a reflection on the 19th Chapter of Matthew’s Gospel. It’s an inspiring portrait of Jesus calling poor humanity to himself. He is our Savior.

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Lamp for a Dark Place

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The sky over the boardwalk at Spring Lake, New Jersey, is sometimes swept with colors before nightfall. Then, a lamp is the only light till dawn.

The sun will rise again and the great Sun will also rise again, Augustine says. Then  “lamps will no longer be needed. When that day is at hand, the prophet will not be read to us, the book of the Apostle will not be opened, we shall not require the testimony of John, we shall have no need of the Gospel itself. Therefore all Scriptures will be taken away from us, those Scriptures which in the night of this world burned like lamps so that we might not remain in darkness.”

Darkness is temporary; we are meant for light.

“I implore you to love with me and, by believing, to run with me; let us long for our heavenly country, let us sigh for our heavenly home, let us truly feel that here we are strangers. What shall we then see? Let the gospel tell us: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. You will come to the fountain, with whose dew you have already been sprinkled.

“Instead of the ray of light which was sent through slanting and winding ways into the heart of your darkness, you will see the light itself in all its purity and brightness. It is to see and experience this light that you are now being cleansed. Dearly beloved, John himself says, we are the sons of God, and it has not yet been disclosed what we shall be; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.

“I feel that your spirits are being raised up with mine to the heavens above; but the body which is corruptible weighs down the soul, and this earthly tent burdens the thoughtful mind. I am about to lay aside this book, and you are soon going away, each to his own business. It has been good for us to share the common light, good to have enjoyed ourselves, good to have been glad together. When we part from one another, let us not depart from him.”

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The Ascension of Jesus into Heaven

Homily

 

 

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