Category Archives: Passionists

Reading Mark’s Gospel

Mark

After the Christmas season we read  from the first 10 chapters of the Gospel of Mark at daily Mass till the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Even if you can’t get to daily Mass, read along with the daily lectionary. It’s a wonderful way to pray.

The medieval artist who painted the portrait above of  Mark, sees him as an old man, adjusting his spectacles and getting down to work, while a lion, a traditional symbol of the evangelist, gets ready to roar.

A roaring, fast-paced story– good way to describe Mark’s gospel–. “After John had been arrested, Jesus came to Galilee proclaiming the Gospel of God: ‘This is the time of fulfillment. The Kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the Gospel.’” Think of loud trumpets, drums and clanging symbols. We read it in slow motion. It’s meant to be read fast, one story building on the other.

Jesus proclaims the Kingdom of God, first in Galilee and then in Jerusalem, by miracles and powerful signs. The “wild beasts” he faced in the desert (Mark 1,13) face him now in human form, but he boldly goes his way, with a lion’s courage. From now till Ash Wednesday we follow him in Galilee, then to Jerusalem.

We learn from him as we follow him.

Saint Hilary of Potiers

Hilary

Besides  the scriptures, the saints are companions on life’s journey, revealing  the wisdom of God from age to age.  “A cloud of witnesses,” the Letter to the Hebrews calls them.

January 13th we remember St. Hilary of Potiers, who lived in the early 4th century, a crucial time for the church, when the Emperor Constantine and his successors ended years of persecution and welcomed Christians as allies in governing the empire.

Hilary was born in Gaul into a wealthy family, but he wasn’t brought up in a Christian environment. He came to baptism (about the year 345 AD) through personal study of the scriptures. He was married and had a daughter. Then, about ten years after his baptism he was elected by the people of Potiers as their bishop. An unusual path to become a bishop!

A bishop’s role changed after Constantine gave the church freedom in 312 AD. More and more, they became agents of the emperor and his administration, and that brought temptation. Hilary and one of his friends, Martin of Tours, thought a good number of the bishops in Gaul were after worldly power and prestige rather than a spiritual ministry.

Many bishops closely associated with the emperors– both in the eastern and western parts of the empire– were also influenced by Arianism, which was favored by the emperors Constantius ( 350-361) and Valens (364-378). Arianism claimed that Jesus was human and not divine. He was only godlike.

Arianism is Christianity lite; it dismisses the claims of Jesus to be divine and makes him like us, only better and more powerful. Probably the emperors and  bishops sympathetic to the Arian doctrine felt it made Christianity more palatable for unbelievers. A good political option

Hilary strongly upheld the divinity of Jesus, basing his faith on the scriptures  he read and the sacrament of baptism he received. His stand brought him exile in Asia Minor, but he continued to teach and write in defense of orthodoxy and eventually he was restored to his diocese.

Hilary’s counterpart in the eastern church, St. Athanasius, was another big opponent of Arianism and imperial control of the church. Both bishops suffered exile and helped the church hold to the faith professed at the Council of Nicea in 321 AD. St. Jerome expressed the gravity of the situation: “The world groaned, amazed that it had become Arian.”

Hilary in Gaul and Athanasius in Egypt argued for Catholic orthodoxy from the scriptures and church tradition. They also strongly encouraged religious life in the church. Athanasius saw the spirituality of the desert, exemplified by St. Anthony ( we remember him later this week) as a remedy for the increasing worldliness of Christians. Hilary was the teacher of Martin of Tours, founder of religious life in Gaul.

The two saints promoted religious life which played an important part in promoting sound faith in the church. Christianity always needs communities of dedicated believers as well as sharp-minded leaders for its journey through time. Say a prayer for our religious communities, including my own. We need them in the church.

And let’s not forget to pray for good bishops too.

Ordinary Time and Daily Prayer

We’re into Ordinary Time in our liturgy after the Feast of the Epiphany and the Baptism of Jesus which we celebrate this Sunday. Christmas Time is over. So there’s nothing to do till Lent and the Easter season?

Sure there is. Ordinary Time is a time for daily prayer, and daily prayer is never over. The Second Vatican Council’s Constitution on the Liturgy said that daily prayer is at the heart of the Christian life and created a daily lectionary of scripture readings so “ the treasures of the bible be opened more lavishly for the faithful at the table of God’s word.” (SC 51)

The daily lectionary is a treasure for praying with the scriptures, but don’t take it for granted. Treasures, Jesus said, are usually hidden and you have to dig for them. That’s what we do in daily prayer. The liturgy is always a “work”, our daily work, an important work, a daily prayer. It’s the “summit” of the Christian life. We’re always at the beginning, not at the end.

We begin Monday to read the Book of Samuel and the Gospel of Mark from our lectionary. There are feasts of the Lord and his saints to celebrate in the days ahead. It’s a lifelong learning we’re into, a school God provides,  and we learn day by day.

Father Charles of Mount Argus

Charles mt. argus

January 5 is the feast of the Passionist Father Charles Houben of Mount Argus in Ireland, who was known as a miracle-worker for the many miraculous cures attributed to him. He died in 1893. In 1892, one year earlier, Sherlock Holmes died, as fans of the master detective may know.

I mention Sherlock Holmes because he represents the English Enlightenment that believed everything can be explained by reason. On the case of Father Charles and his many miraculous cures, I’m sure Holmes would say to his colleague Dr. Watson “No such things as a miraculous cure. There’s a reason for it somewhere, and I’ll find it.”

Father Charles was born in Munstergeleen, Holland in 1821. During his time of compulsory military service he first heard about the Passionists. After completing military service and studies he was received into the community by Blessed Dominic Barberi. He made his novitiate in Belgium, ordained a priest and then sent to England. In 1856 he went to the newly established monastery of Mount Argus in Dublin, Ireland, where he ministered for most of his life till his death in 1893.

Charles was shy and timid, not learned or scholarly or a good preacher. He never spoke English well. At Mount Argus, he heard confessions and blessed people with a relic of the Passionist saints. Yet, people saw him as someone close to God and his blessing brought about cures. Increasing numbers of people came to him at Mount Argus seeking to be cured and he was called to homes and hospitals in Dublin to bless the sick.

His reputation grew. His funeral was attended by people from all of Ireland. A newspaper of the time said: “Never before has the memory of any man sparked an explosion of religious sentiment and profound veneration as that which we observed in the presence of the mortal remains of Father Charles,” the Superior of the monastery wrote to his family, “The people have already declared him a saint.”

In his lifetime, though, Charles met with criticism and humiliation, even from members of his own community. In 1866 because questions were raised about his curing ministry, particularly by the medical establishment, Charles was transferred to England, where he remained for a number of years before returning to Mount Argus.

In our enlightened age, we distrust cures.. Whether we’re aware of it or not, like the famous detective, we put our trust in science and reason to solve sickness and suffering. Someone will figure it out. Meantime take some pills.

We forget that cures were among the chief signs Jesus gave in his ministry. “He went around all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the Gospel of the Kingdom, and curing every disease and illness among the people.” ( Matthew 4, 23) I notice recently pastoral care of the sick is getting dismissed more and more by the medical establishment. I also wonder if, in an “enlightened age” like ours, God might not work more cures, just to show us.

Charles was canonized June 2, 2007 by Pope Benedict XVI in St. Peters Basilica, Rome. He’s still performing cures.

If you want to make a pilgrimage to Fr. Charles’ tomb start here.

Elizabeth Seton, January 4

Elizabeth Seton 1804

Today’s the feast of St. Elizabeth Seton (1774-1821), a woman born at the time of the American revolution and a founder of the American Catholic Church.

The United States Catholic Catechism for Adults sees her as an example of a woman in search of God.  We find God through Jesus Christ, but also through creation, through human relationships and through various circumstances of our lives.

Elizabeth Seton was a woman who found God in all those ways. As a little girl after her mother’s  death she was neglected by her father and at odds with her stepmother, and  she found God in the beauties of nature, in the fields around New Rochelle, NY,  where she played as a child.

Then, as a young woman, she married a prominent New York business man, William Seton.  They had five children and Elizabeth enjoyed a happy married life, lots of friends; she was active in her Episcopal church, Trinity Church, on Wall Street in New York City.

She lived in a new country, in a city inspired by the optimism and principles of the Enlightenment, a movement that saw life as a pursuit of human knowledge and progress, more than as a pursuit of the knowledge of God. Alexander Pope sums up her time in his famous couplet in “An Essay of Man” (“Know then thyself, presume not God to scan/The proper study of mankind is man”)

In a society and a church largely influenced by those values, Elizabeth felt drawn to Jesus Christ, whom she searched for in the scriptures and found in the care of the poor. 

Her life changed when her husband’s business failed. When his health also failed, Elizabeth took him to Italy to see if a better climate could revive him. As they arrived in Livorno, Italy, he died in her arms in a cold quarantine station at the Italian port.

Some Italian friends took Elizabeth and her daughter into their home and there she began to think about becoming a Catholic. Her conversion after her return to New York City caused her to lose old friends and left her to face hard times as a widow with small children.

She moved to Baltimore, then Emmitsburg, Maryland, where she opened her first  Catholic school and gathered other women to form a religious community. She is one of the great saints and founders of the American Church. She’s also an important witness to the major role women played in establishing the Catholic Church in America.

Her quest for God was many sided, touched by sorrows and joys.  She’s a good example of how our relationship with God is formed by creation, by the people around us, and the varied circumstances we face as we go through life and the times in which we live.

People like Mother Seton show how faith grows in us. That’s why the new U.S. Catholic Catechism for Adults sees her as an example of how we find God in real life. More important than books, people tell us what believing means. They’re good catechisms.

Happy Feast Day to all her daughters throughout the world who continue in her spirit. They are following her and their journey isn’t over.

A biography of Mother Seton:  http://emmitsburg.net/setonshrine/

A New Year Is Here

new year


Looking at the New Year, Karl Rahner speaks of our need for “a mysticism of everyday life.” It’s not in big things God’s grace will be found, but in steady, commonplace living. Accepting time in small dimensions readies us for its big moments.

“The New Year is coming.  A year like all the rest.  A year of trouble and disappointment with myself and others. When God is building the house of our eternity, he puts up fine scaffolding in order to carry out the work. So fine, that we may prefer to live in it.

The trouble is we find it is taken down again and again. We call that dismantling the painful fragility of life. We lament and become melancholy if we look at the new year and see only the demolition of the house of our life, which is really being quietly built up for eternity behind this scaffolding that’s put up and taken down again.

“No, the coming year is not a year of disappointment or a year of pleasing illusions. It’s God’s year. The year when decisive hours are approaching me quietly and unobtrusively, and the fullness of my time is coming. Shall I notice these hours? Or will they be empty, because they seem too small, too humble and commonplace?

“Outwardly they won’t look different and can be overlooked: the slight patience it takes to made life slightly more tolerable for those around me; the omission of an excuse; risking good faith in someone I’m inclined to mistrust because I’ve had an bad experience with them before; accepting someone’s criticism of me; allowing an injury done to me to die away, without complaining, bitterness or revenge; being faithful to prayer without being rewarded by “consolations” or “religious experience”; trying to love those who get on my nerves (through their fault, of course); trying to see in someone else’s stupidity an intelligence that is not mine; not trading on my virtues to justify my faults; suppressing my complaints and omitting self-praise.”

Rahner doesn’t glamorize everyday mysticism. It can be both tough and boring. “Even the saints yawn sometimes, and have to shave.”

K. Rahner, The Great Church Year, New York 1994  p. 85