Category Archives: spirituality

The Immaculate Conception

Some question why Mary, the Mother of Jesus, has such a big place in the faith of  our church. The words of the angel in Luke’s gospel, words we often repeat in prayer, offer an answer: “Hail, full of grace, the Lord is with you.”

Mary is full of grace, gifted by God with unique spiritual gifts from her conception, because she was to be the mother of Jesus Christ, God’s only Son.

She would be the “resting place of the Trinity,” and would give birth to, nourish, guide and accompany Jesus in his life and mission in this world. To fulfill that unique role she needed a unique gift. She would be free from original sin that clouds human understanding and slows the way we believe in God and his plan for us.

“How slow you are to believe” Jesus said to the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. Jesus made that complaint repeatedly as he preached the coming of God’s kingdom. “How slow you are to believe!” “What little faith you have!” “Do you still not understand!” That human slowness to believe didn’t end in gospel times. We have it too.

Mary was freed from that slowness to believe. “Be it done to me according to your word,” she immediately says to the angel. Yet, her acceptance of God’s will does not mean she understood everything that happened to her. “How can this be?” she asks the angel about the conception of the child. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you.”  But the angel’s answer seems so incomplete, so mysterious.

Surely, Mary would have liked to know more when the angel leaves her, never to return. There’s no daily message, no new briefing or renewed assurance by heavenly messengers. The years go by in Nazareth as the Child grows in wisdom and age and grace, but they’re years of silence. Like the rest of us, Mary waits and wonders and keeps these things in her heart.

That’s why we welcome her as a believer walking with us. She is an assuring presence. She calls us to believe as she did, without knowing all. She does not pretend to be an expert with all the answers. She has no special secrets known to her alone. “Do whatever he tells you,” is her likely advice as we ponder the mysteries of her Son.

 

The Churches the Apostles Left Behind

Fr. Don Senior, in his  biography of Fr. Raymond Brown the American scripture scholar, says that one of Brown’s best books was “The Churches the Apostles Left Behind.” Scholars like Brown and Senior say the apostles left churches behind, not one monolithic church that was everywhere the same. The Gospel of Mark, for example, is different from the Gospel of John and it comes from a church different from the church represented in John. There was not one orderly church, but squabbling, disorderly churches, yet churches just the same.

The New Testament churches were developing churches, the scholars say. They describe them as being on a trajectory. They’re not set in stone or isolation or perfect; they’re interacting with each other and their time. And by the power of the Spirit they’re developing slowly into the church that Jesus wants to bring about.

These insights have great consequences for ecumenism, for one thing. The churches the apostles left behind help us understand Christian churches today and the challenge to keep on a trajectory towards Christian unity.

That’s true also of the particular church we may belong to. I’m thinking of something one of the people who comes to our 11 o’clock Mass here at the monastery told me recently. She enjoys the different priests who celebrate that Mass here, she said. “You’re all so different. In fact, I don’t know why you don’t kill each other.”

Certainly one of the reasons why we don’t kill each other is the presence and patience of Jesus himself. For all his complaint about his own generation, Jesus never gave up on it, but gave himself to it day by day, as he does for us. Our prayer and liturgy together keeps us on the path that leads to what God wants us to be.

The Maccabees

This week’s Mass readings from the 1st Book of Maccabees tell the story of the re-dedication of the temple of Jerusalem three years after its profanation  by Antiochus Epiphanes.  About the year 167 BC,  Jews under Judas Maccabeus re-conquered Jerusalem and restored the temple, the heart of their religion.

The first reading this Friday describes the rededication of the temple to its former glory. The Jews continue to celebrate it in the feast of Hannukah. (1 Maccabees 4,36-61}

The New Testament writers, certainly aware of this historic event, recall Jesus cleansing the temple.(Friday’s gospel) Entering Jerusalem after his journey from Galilee, “ Jesus went into the temple area and proceeded to drive out those who were selling things, saying to them, ‘It is written, My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.’” Then, “every day he was teaching in the temple area” until he was arrested and put to death. (Luke 19,45-48)

Cleansing the temple was a symbolic act. By it,  Jesus signified  he himself  is the presence of God, the Word made flesh, the new temple of God.

Luke says Jesus taught in the temple “every day.” As our eternal high priest, he teaches us every day and brings us to his Father and our Father–every day.

Jesus is the temple that cannot be destroyed. At his trial before he died, witnesses gave testimony that was half right when they said he spoke of destroying the temple. When he spoke about the destruction of the temple, Jesus was speaking of the temple of his own body. Death seemed to destroy him, but he was raised up on the third day.

We share in this mystery as “members of his body.” Yet, we’re a sacramental people and need places to come together, to pray and to meet God who “dwells among us.” We need churches and holy places. We instinctively revolt when we see them go.

We recognize the heroism of the Maccabees.

Mother Cabrini

Mulberry Street, New York City, ca.1900

From 1880 to 1920 more than 4 million Italian immigrants came to the United States, mostly from rural southern Italy. Many were poor peasants escaping the chaotic political situation and widespread poverty of a recently united Italian peninsula.

Almost all the new immigrants came through Ellis Island; many settled in the crowded tenements of the New York region, where men found work in the subways, canals and buildings of the growing city. The women often worked in the sweatshops that multiplied in New York at the time. Almost half of the 146 workers killed as fire consumed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory in 1911, were Italian women.

Over time, the Italian immigrants moved elsewhere and became a prominent part of American society, but at first large numbers suffered from the over-crowding, harsh conditions, discrimination and cultural shock they met in cities like New York. Many returned to Italy with stories of the contradictions and injustices lurking in “the American dream.”

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini

Mother Maria Francesca Cabrini (1850-19170), founder of the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart, an order of women missionaries , came to America in 1889 at the urging of Pope Leo XIII to serve the underserved poor. Her work is succinctly described on the website of the Cabrini Mission Foundation.

“She proceeded to found schools, orphanages, hospitals and social services institutions to serve the needs of immigrants in the United States and other parts of the world. Despite poor health and frailty, Mother Cabrini crossed the ocean 25 times during 29 years of missionary work, and with her sisters founded 67 institutions in nine countries on three continents – one for each year of her life.

Mother Cabrini was a collaborator from the start of her missionary activity. She was a woman of her time, yet beyond her time. Her message – “all things are possible with God” – is as alive today as it was 110 years ago. Mother Cabrini lived and worked among the people, poor and rich alike, using whatever means were provided to support her works. She was a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others. In recognition of her extraordinary service to immigrants, Mother Cabrini was canonized in 1946 as the “first American saint,” and was officially declared the Universal Patroness of Immigrants by the Vatican in 1950.”

Be good to have leaders like her today in the church, as well as in society, wouldn’t it? “… a progressive, strategic visionary, willing to take risks, adaptable to change, and responsive to every opportunity that arose to help others.”

Her feastday is November 13th. “Mother Cabrini, pray for us.”

St. Martin of Tours, November 11

martin_of_tours_204_detail_843x850

Martin of Tours is a saint worth reflecting on,

Saints are the antidotes to the poison of their times, Chesterton said,  so what poison did Martin confront?

One was the poison of militarism. Martin was born into a military family in 316,  his father a Roman officer who came up through the ranks and  commanded the legions on the Roman frontier along the Rhine and Danube rivers. When his son was born his father saw him as a soldier like himself. He named him Martin, after Mars, the god of war.

Rome was mobilizing then to stop invading barbarian tribes, and soldiers, like the emperors Constantine and Diocletian, were its heroes.  But Martin wanted nothing to do with war. As a young boy he heard a message of peace and non-violence from Christians he knew. Instead of a soldier, he became a Christian catechumen, over his father’s strong objections. Martin was a lifelong peacemaker.

He died on his way as a bishop to settle a dispute among his priests.

Another poison Martin confronted was the poison of careerism. Elected bishop of Tours by the people, Martin adopted a lifestyle unlike that of other bishops of Gaul, who were increasingly involved in imperial  administration and adopting the privileged style that came with it.

Bishops set themselves up in the cities;  Martin preferred to minister in the country, to the “pagani”, the uneducated poor.

Are the poisons of militarism and careerism around today? We remember our war veterans today.So many died in terrible wars these 100 years and many bear the scars of war. Militarism is still around. So is careerism .

The story that epitomizes Martin, of course, is his meeting with the beggar in a cold winter as he was coming through the gate in the town of Amiens, still a soldier but also a Christian catechumen. He stopped and cut his military cloak in two and gave one to the poor man. That night, the story goes, Christ appeared to him in a dream, wearing the beggar’s cloak. “Martin gave me this,” he said.

Pope Benedict XVI commented on this event.

“ Martin’s gesture flows from the same logic that drove Jesus to multiply the loaves for the hungry crowd, but most of all to leave himself to humanity as food in the Eucharist… It’s the logic of sharing.

May St Martin help us to understand that only by a common commitment to sharing is it possible to respond to the great challenge of our times: to build a world of peace and justice where each person can live with dignity. This can be achieved if an authentic solidarity prevails which assures to all inhabitants of the planet food, water, necessary medical treatment, and also work and energy resources as well as cultural benefits, scientific and technological knowledge.”

That’s well said.

In medieval Europe farmers were getting ready for winter at this time, putting aside food and meat for the cold days ahead. Martin’s feast day was a reminder to put aside something for the poor. The poor are always with us; are we remembering them?

Today’s  Veterans Day in the USA, honoring those who fought in our country’s wars. It was originally called Armistice Day celebrating the end of fighting between the Allies and Germany on November 11, 1918. The United States lost 116,516 troops in the 1st World War; other countries lost millions more. The wars that followed added to that count.

Morning Thoughts: Who is Paul of the Cross?

st-paul-castellazzo


..

Who is Paul of the Cross?

He’s a saint, canonized by Pope Pius IX in 1867.

He’s the founder of the Passionists , a religious community of priests, brothers, sisters, and laypeople.

He lived in northern and central Italy during most of the 18th century and was originally called Paul Francesco Danei.

There are books written about him. His letters have been collected and printed in large, thick volumes. And time on the internet will easily identify many short biographical sketches, prayers, and sayings. There is also much available about the Passionists, and their life after the death of Saint Paul of the Cross—their growth, history, struggles, saints, and their current configuration, focus, and works.

There are also the many individual members of the Congregation of the Passion of Jesus Christ, living today and based all around the world, and they each have their own story to tell.

But there is also the man named Paul.

And somehow this kind, gentle, humble, and beautifully-flawed human being seems to get lost in all this.

His weaknesses greatly interest me.

Christ’s courage and strength in and through him inspire me.

If we prayerfully put aside the constitutions, the history, the legacy, and even his incredibly personal and guidance-filled letters (that he never intended anyone other than the recipients to read) we just may find a stripped-down saint whose essence and example we badly need in times such as these.

We just may find what we find in each and every great man and woman of God throughout Christian history—that same occurrence that appears again and again through the lives of our brothers and sisters who have truly renounced all their possessions in order to become true disciples of Christ.

———

In Saint Paul of the Cross we just may find…

…a cold, naked infant in a cradle, desperate for his mother’s breast…

…a frightened and insecure child running to keep pace with the visions of his father…

…a tired, distraught, beaten-down young man offering his life for the benefit of his brothers…

We just may find ourselves.

Or we may find someone that we used to know.

Or we may find someone that we should get to know.

But what really matters is that we find the Word made flesh.

And that is the heart of the matter. The fleshy heart that matters.

For while hearts of stone are hard to wound, they are not really hearts at all. They are the hearts of the walking dead, of those whom Jesus Himself says, “let the dead bury their dead.”

Jesus wants our hearts, our entire hearts. He wants undivided, tenderized hearts. Soft and fleshy hearts.

Yes, that type of heart is easily pierced, but in being wounded they are transformed, in being merciful they begin to bleed, and in forgiving they become His. They become sacred. Our hearts become His Most Sacred Heart.

———

The saints show us Jesus. They show us ourselves. They show us where we come from, where we currently need to stand, and where it is that we should go.

And the answer is always the same: With God.

Born of a virgin. Dying on a cross. Raised from the dead. Ascending into Heaven.

———

I am no expert on Saint Paul of the Cross. But I am his friend, and he has been very good to me. And I hope that you get to know him too.

As far as me telling you more about Paul Danei, you probably fall into one of three categories: you already know the details, you have never even heard of him, or you are about to meet a man with a striking resemblance.

For you see, the best thing I can say about Paul is that he is a lot like Jesus—a man in history but not met through it, a man who wore a robe but not defined by it, a man who submitted himself to the law but didn’t let that stop him from transcending it.

A man who at the end of the day, knows that it is all about love.


.

—Howard Hain

.

Friday Thoughts: Francesca and William

pierre-auguste-renoir-julie-manet-with-cat-1887

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, “Julie Manet with cat”, 1887


 

Francesca, like most 4-year-olds, is not particularly gentle when it comes to petting a cat. Well, let me put it another way, her gentleness as compared to her zeal when It comes to petting a cat is somewhat lacking. Hence, our cats spend most of their time in the attic of our apartment, hiding from the over-affectionate hand of Francesca.

One morning I was on the couch and Francesca was sitting at the coffee table working on a coloring book. From the door leading to the attic peaked the head of William. Francesca saw him and quickly looked at me, and for some reason this time she attempted to implement what she had been told many times before.

In a barely audible whisper, she looked for affirmation: “Daddy, I shouldn’t move, right?”

“No, Francesca, stay still…”, I whispered back, “…let him come to you. Just leave your hand down by your side.”

And lo and behold, William began to make his way toward us, and began to even approach Francesca’s still fingers. He sniffed. He balked. He approached again. Francesca went to move and stopped. William and Francesca courted each other, one filled with fright, the other excitement, both nearly shaking with emotion.

Francesca broke the tension and attempted to pet his head. William allowed it but could not hold together the nerve to stay put once Francesca’s hand moved past his neck. Off and up the stairs William went.

I realized something. Sometimes, when a person is filled with fear he can not be approached. No matter how kind, soft, sincere our intention, he just can not take the approach, any approach. He needs to make the first move. And we on our part need to simply stay still, patiently waiting for him to come closer, and then maybe, just maybe, we can make a kind gesture. But even if the person runs away at that point we need not take it personal. It is fear that is the cause. Neither the person giving nor the person receiving is to blame.

But unlike cats, who usually show fear just as it is, perhaps with an occasional threatening hiss, humans on the other hand show fear through a different type of tremble. They often preemptively throw insults, curses, mocks, pushes, and even outright physical strikes.

And just as it is hard to ignore the sharp claws of a frightened kitten digging into your arm—even when we fully understand that the kitten truly means no personal harm to us—it is hard to ignore such “attacks” from our fellow man. It is hard to strip them down to what they really are: pathetic attempts at self-preservation. But then again, was not Jesus striped down? And shouldn’t we always keep Christ’s Passion in our hearts? Well, then, as a sign of gratitude, we owe it to Jesus to see His Passion in all our interactions, especially the encounters that cause us pain, be it a superficial abrasion or a wound that pierces the core of our soul.

Let us then employ God’s grace in seeing all harshness, in any form, from any human being toward us, as fear. And by doing so we find ourselves very much in the actual footprints of Christ. For what nailed Him to the Cross was not jealousy nor anger nor even resentment, but fear, fear of the worst kind, fear of the truth. And in the case of Jesus, Truth had a very real face.

But we too are alive. We too have within us the divine presence, a presence that some find dreadfully frightening.

No, we can not like Jesus be sinless, but we can see our persecutors as he did: men to be pitied not punished, men that need mercy not condemnation, men who if we don’t offer forgiveness to are less likely to find it within themselves when they are at the other end of the sword—when it is their turn to be insulted, cursed, mocked, pushed, and even outright physically struck for simply wanting to love.

In the mean time, Francesca continues to color and William sleeps peacefully up in a tight nook of the attic. In the fullness of time, they’ll see eye to eye, as shall you and me.


.

—Howard Hain

.