Category Archives: Travel

Feasts for Tired Believers

Central Italy, 1800s

The Passionists celebrate two feasts immediately before Ash Wednesday. The Solemn Commemoration of the Passion of Jesus Christ on the Friday before Ash Wednesday. The Prayer of Jesus in the Garden on Tuesday before that day.

I think both feasts are inspired by our missionary founder, St. Paul of the Cross, (1694-1775) who spent many years announcing the graces of lent in the villages and towns of the Tuscan Maremma in Italy..

It was a challenge. The Tuscan Maremma was then a place where graces seemed gone. An area in Central Italy facing the Mediterranean Sea, almost 2,000 square miles– roughly the size of Long Island and New York City together– it was the poorest, most troubled part of Italy in Paul’s day. Only gradually, towards the end of the 1700s, after his death, did it begin inching towards recovery.

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Now Tuscanny is a popular tourist destination. Then it was an unhealthily mix of hills and swamplands. Malaria was widespread, roads often impassible, dangerous because of bandits. Farmlands were abandoned; beggars everywhere. The people in isolated villages and hill towns suspected outsiders.

Paul and his companions preached there for many years. Every year it was the same; it never seemed to change. You need other eyes and another kind of heart to work in a world like that and not get tired.

And so I think as they packed their bags for their lenten journey into the Tuscan Maremma they had to remind themselves what was there before them: the mystery of the Passion of Christ. They needed to pray so they wouldn’t forget. That’s what Jesus did before the mystery of his Passion.

It’s still so today, isn’t it?,. These two feasts are for tired believers, as well as missionaries, who face the world where things don’t seem to change. We need another way of seeing things and another kind of heart to journey on..

If you want to pray this feast with the Passionists, go here.

February 8: St. Josephine Bakhita

An heroic African woman from the Sudan, Josephine Bakhita was kidnapped by slave traders when she was 9 years old and forced into slavery for almost 12 years. Pope Benedict XVI wrote of her in his encyclical letter “On Hope” as an example of God’s gift of hope. “To come to know God—the true God—means to receive hope.”

“I am thinking of the African Josephine Bakhita, canonized by Pope John Paul II. She was born around 1869—she herself did not know the precise date—in Darfur in Sudan. At the age of nine, she was kidnapped by slave-traders, beaten till she bled, and sold five times in the slave-markets of Sudan. Eventually she found herself working as a slave for the mother and the wife of a general, and there she was flogged every day till she bled; as a result of this she bore 144 scars throughout her life.

Finally, in 1882, she was bought by an Italian merchant for the Italian consul Callisto Legnani, who returned to Italy as the Mahdists advanced. Here, after the terrifying “masters” who had owned her up to that point, Bakhita came to know a totally different kind of “master”—in Venetian dialect, which she was now learning, she used the name “paron” for the living God, the God of Jesus Christ.

Up to that time she had known only masters who despised and maltreated her, or at best considered her a useful slave. Now, however, she heard that there is a “paron” above all masters, the Lord of all lords, and that this Lord is good, goodness in person.

She came to know that this Lord even knew her, that he had created her—that he actually loved her. She too was loved, and by none other than the supreme “Paron”, before whom all other masters are themselves no more than lowly servants. She was known and loved and she was awaited.
What is more, this master had himself accepted the destiny of being flogged and now he was waiting for her “at the Father’s right hand”. Now she had “hope” —no longer simply the modest hope of finding masters who would be less cruel, but the great hope: “I am definitively loved and whatever happens to me—I am awaited by this Love. And so my life is good.” Through the knowledge of this hope she was “redeemed”, no longer a slave, but a free child of God.

She understood what Paul meant when he reminded the Ephesians that previously they were without hope and without God in the world—without hope because without God. Hence, when she was about to be taken back to Sudan, Bakhita refused; she did not wish to be separated again from her “Paron”.

On 9 January 1890, she was baptized and confirmed and received her first Holy Communion from the hands of the Patriarch of Venice. On 8 December 1896, in Verona, she took her vows in the Congregation of the Canossian Sisters and from that time onwards, besides her work in the sacristy and in the porter’s lodge at the convent, she made several journeys round Italy in order to promote the missions: the liberation that she had received through her encounter with the God of Jesus Christ, she felt she had to extend, it had to be handed on to others, to the greatest possible number of people.

The hope born in her which had “redeemed” her she could not keep to herself; this hope had to reach many, to reach everybody.”

Benedict XVI “Spes salvi” 2007

Josephine Bakhita died February 8, 1947 and was declared a saint in 2000.She is the patron saint of the Sudan and victims of human trafficking. For more on her, see here.

Learning about Water

In his letter, Laudato Si, Pope Francis says that the sacraments teach us to respect and reverence creation. Water, bread, wine, oil–sacramental signs– not only bring us into the divine mystery, they also bring us to the created world, our common home.

Water, for example, the sign of the sacrament of baptism, is more than something to drink, it’s a sign of life and death. In the beginning, God moved over chaotic waters to make them life-giving;’ In the time of Noah the Lord moved over the flood waters that threatened death to recreate dry land where life could flourish. . (Genesis 1, 1-2)

Because water symbolizes the life and chaos of the world, Jesus began his ministry going down into the waters of the Jordan River. The waters of the Jordan are muddied today, I doubt they were sparkling then. The world was muddied then; it’s muddied now. .

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When Jesus entered the waters of the Jordan, he entered the world as it is and brought new life to it by the power of God. The liturgies of the eastern churches emphasize the blessing brought to water by the Word made flesh. They see the Jordan, filled with the blessing of the Word flowing out to the whole world. Every river, every land, every baptistery holds the blessing of God.

Water is holy. We baptize in clean water because, by the power of Jesus, we are given new life and the promise of eternal life. We become a new creation. Water is holy, but it can be chaotic. The disciples on the Sea of Galilee knew that. “Did you not know that when you were baptized, you were baptized into his death.”

Jesus was revealed when he went into the water at his baptism. “This is my beloved Son,” a voice from heaven proclaims. He is revealed in the waters of life. He quieted the storm on the Sea of Galilee, he turned water into wine at Cana. “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink,” he said. Blood and water flowed from his side on Calvary.

Today, water plays a major role in climate change. In the last century sea levels globally have risen almost 7 inches and in the last 10 years have risen more rapidly than ever. The rise in sea level is caused primarily by two factors related to global warming: the added water from melting land ice and the expansion of sea water as it warms.

This affects us especially in the New York/New Jersey area where I’m writing from. More than 20 million people live along our coastlines, near the water. Flooding and drought from changing patterns of rainfall can affect the homes we live in, our water supply for food and drink. The poor and the vulnerable will be affected most deeply as sea levels push salt water onto our coasts and further upstream in our rivers.

Water, in which Jesus was revealed, now calls us to live responsibly and care for the earth.

St. Agnes, January 21

St. Agnes
January 21, 2019

St. Agnes, Rome

Agnes, one of the most popular Roman women martyrs of the 3rd century, is among the seven  women mentioned in the 1st Eucharistic Prayer:  “Felicity, Perpetua,  Agatha, Lucy, Agnes, Cecilia, Anastasia.” She’s honored in a special liturgy in the Liturgy of the Hours. 

Her story appears in legendary 5th century sources, but some basic facts about her seem historically reliable. Agnes was a beautiful, wealthy 13 year old girl chosen to be the wife of an influential Roman man, but she refused to marry him because she believed as a Christian she had the right to remain unmarried. A deeply religious young woman, she wanted to give her life to God.

That wasn’t an option for Roman women then. Women were expected to marry young, to marry men chosen for them, and to have two or three children. Rome needed citizen soldiers then to grow and hold on to its empire. Only reluctantly did Rome come to depend on foreigners for its fighting. It preferred its own men and wanted its own women to produce them. 

When Agnes refused to marry, she went against Roman expectations. She was also a Christian and since she lived in times influenced by Diocletian, a notorious enemy of Christianity, she was a target of religious persecution. They pressured her to give up her beliefs; when she refused they declared her an enemy of the state.

Tradition says the authorities brought her first to the Stadium of Domitian, to a brothel of prostitutes there, to commit her to a life of degradation, but God kept her from harm. She would not yield, and so they took her to the arena and killed her by slitting her throat. Those who saw her die marveled at her courage and her faith. 

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Martyrdom of Agnes, Church of St. Agnes, Rome

Commentators like St. Ambrose, writing afterwards about Agnes, marveled at the young girl’s bravery. In Roman households of the best kind, young girls were protected and not expected to speak for themselves. Here was a young girl who stood up to the Roman establishment, even till death. How did she do it ?

“God chooses the weak to confound the strong” the prayer for the Mass of St. Agnes says.  She confounded the way Roman Christians thought about holiness. Men like Peter and Paul and other disciples of Jesus, soldier saints like Sebastian, who witnessed to the faith by dying for it were  the usual measure of holiness then. Devotion to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, grew later in the 4th century, as disputes took place about the human nature of Jesus. In Agnes’ time women were hardly seen or heard. 

Agnes and women martyrs like her redefined the way early Roman Christians thought about holiness. Women, even young girls, could be heroic witnesses to the Jesus Christ. 

Agnes was buried in the catacombs along the Via Nomentana outside the walls of the city and has been honored there ever since. A majestic ancient church stands over her grave. Another 16th century church honoring her in on the Piazza Navona, where the Stadium of Domition once stood and the young girl endured great suffering.

Some say the 1st Eucharistic Prayer mentioned above goes back to the 6th century pope, St. Gregory the Great, whose family home was on the Celian Hill in Rome, Some also say his mother and aunt may have promoted the women listed in that prayer, all strong women who died for their belief.

One of the new Eucharistic prayers asks us to see “the signs of the times by the light of faith.” What’s the role of women in our times and in our church? 

Wonderful churches to visit, if you go to Rome.

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St. Agnes, Via Nomentana, Rome

Reading Mark’s Gospel

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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.

Saving Santa Claus

Santa’s coming to town for Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Parade. From the parade he’ll go into the store  for Black Friday and be there for the rest of the days till Christmas.

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But Santa Claus is more than a saleman, isn’t he? He’s a saint– Saint Nicholas. He reminds us Christmas is for giving rather than getting. His story of quiet giving mirrors God’s love shown in Jesus Christ.

Telling his story is one of the ways we can save Santa Claus from being captured by Macys and Walmart and all the rest. First, take a look at our version for little children. Then, you might want to go on to our  modest contribution for bigger children– like us:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ADevygB9jNs