Tag Archives: Passionists

The Troubled Crowds

“At the sight of the crowds,” our gospel reading today says,”Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for them because they were troubled and abandoned,like sheep without a shepherd.Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is abundant but the laborers are few; so ask the master of the harvest to send out laborers for his harvest.” (Matthew 9, 34-38)

How should laborers in the harvest today approach the troubled crowds?

In his 1977 novel “Lancelot” Walker Percy tells the story of Lancelot, a man confined to a prison hospital after setting fire to his beautiful ancestral home in Louisiana and murdering his wife and her lover. The man’s fed up with today’s world and turned against it, but he’s still trying to figure out what life’s all about. He’s on to something, one of Percy’s phrases.

An old priest visits him frequently in the prison hospital– his only visitor, it seems– and listens to him, but hardly says a word. That’s partially because Lancelot doesn’t think much anymore of the faith the priest represents.

Yet, the priest listens. Lancelot occasionally asks him if he understands. “Perhaps I talk to you because of your silence. Your silence is the only conversation I can listen to,” Lancelot remarks. Only as the book ends does he say to the priest: “Very well, I’ve finished. Is there anything you wish to tell me?”

On retreat this week, we’re reading Pope Francis’ exhortation, “Gaudete et exultate”, a wonderful exploration of holiness today. At one point, the pope says “Nor can we claim to say where God is not, because God is mysteriously present in the life of every person, in a way that he himself chooses, and we cannot exclude this by our presumed certainties. Even when someone’s life appears completely wrecked, even when we see it devastated by vices or addictions, God is present there. If we let ourselves be guided by the Spirit rather than our own preconceptions, we can and must try to find the Lord in every human life.”
(42)

We’re sent as laborers for the harvest, but are words the only tools we have to use. Is silence, along with a persevering concern, ways to engage the troubled crowd?

“I Will Allure Her”

Commentators say the Book of Hosea, the 8th century Jewish prophet we’re reading at Mass these days, is one of the most difficult books of the bible to understand; its language and its references are often obscure. But one part of Hosea’s story you can recognize in any television soap opera or romantic novel today: It’s a story of marital infidelity, a broken marriage.

Hosea had trouble with his wife, whose name of Gomer. He was very much in love with her; they married and had some children. But Gomer’s not satisfied with Hosea and her family and she leaves them. She wants something else– romance, freedom, new things to see and to do, a new life.

So Hosea is heartbroken and crushed when she leaves him. He doesn’t understand why it’s happened, he’s bewildered and angry and feeling rejected.

Yet he still loves her and tries to win her back. He wants to renew the love they had for each other. Eventually, Gomer comes back, but we’re not really sure if she will stay. What we do know is that Hosea wants to have her back and have their love renewed.

Hosea’s story is an example of God’s relationship to humanity. God loves the world and its people. Yet, we can be unfaithful.  But God’s relationship is like the marital relationship, or as we also see in the Book of Hosea, the relationship of a father or mother to their children. God always wants us back.

You can hear the yearning of Hosea for his wife and the love of God for his people in yesterday’s  reading:

Thus says the LORD:

I will allure her;
I will lead her into the desert
and speak to her heart.
She shall respond there as in the days of her youth,
when she came up from the land of Egypt.

On that day, says the LORD,
She shall call me “My husband,”
and never again “My baal.”

I will espouse you to me forever:
I will espouse you in right and in justice,
in love and in mercy;
I will espouse you in fidelity,
and you shall know the LORD.

(Hosea 2:6, 17-18,21-22)

 

 

 

 

Going to God through Questions

Thomas

Today we remember Thomas, the apostle. We’re tempted to believe that belief does away with troublesome questions and keeps away an unbelieving world. Belief makes our way to God quiet and undisturbed. Not so, Thomas reminds us, he found faith through his questions and placing his finger into the wounds of Christ.

Gregory the Great reminds us today of the importance of Thomas the Apostle.

“In a marvellous way God’s mercy arranged that the disbelieving disciple, in touching the wounds of his master’s body, should heal our wounds of disbelief. The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples. As he touches Christ and is won over to belief, every doubt is cast aside and our faith is strengthened. So the disciple who doubted, then felt Christ’s wounds, becomes a witness to the reality of the resurrection.”

That’s an interesting statement, isn’t it? “The disbelief of Thomas has done more for our faith than the faith of the other disciples.”

We go to God through questions, and some troubles too. We go to God by touching the wounds of Christ.

The First Martyrs of Rome: June 30

June 30th, the day after the feast of Saints Peter and Paul, we remember the Christians  martyred with them in Nero’s persecution in the mid 60s, a persecution that shook the early  church.

It began with an early morning fire that broke out on July 19, 64 in a small shop by the Circus Maximus and spread rapidly to other parts of the city, raging nine days through Rome’s narrow street and alleyways where more than a million people lived in apartment blocks of flimsy wooden construction.

Only two areas escaped the fire; one of them, Trastevere, across the Tiber River, had a large Jewish population.

Nero was at his seaside villa in Anzio and delayed returning to the city. Not a good move for a politician, even an emperor. Angered by his absence,  people wondered if he set the fire himself so he could rebuild the city on grand plans of his own.

To stop the rumors, Nero looked for someone to blame. He chose a group of renegade Jews called Christians, whose reputation was tarnished by incidents years earlier when the Emperor Claudius banished some of them from Rome after rioting occurred in the synagogues over Jesus Christ.

“Nero was the first to rage with Caesar’s sword against this sect,” the early-Christian writer Tertullian wrote. “To suppress the rumor,” the Roman historian Tacitus says, “Nero created scapegoats. He punished with every kind of cruelty the notoriously depraved group known as Christians.”

We don’t know their names,  how long it went on or how many were killed: the Roman historians do not say. Possibly  60,000 Jewish merchants and slaves lived in Rome then; some were followers of Jesus and had broken away from the Jewish community even before Peter and Paul arrived in the city.(cf. The Letter to the Romans)

Following usual procedure, the Roman  authorities seized some and forced them by torture to give the names of others. “First, Nero had some of the members of this sect arrested. Then, on their information, large numbers were condemned — not so much for arson, but for their hatred of the human race. Their deaths were made a farce.” (Tacitus)

The Christians were killed with exceptional cruelty in Nero’s gardens and in public places like the race course on Vatican Hill. “Mockery of every sort accompanied their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” (Tacitus)

Nero went too far, even for Romans used to barbaric cruelty. “There arose in the people a sense of pity. For it was felt that they (the Christians) were being sacrificed for one man’s brutality rather than to the public interest.” (Tacitus)

How did the Roman Christians react to this absurd, unjust tragedy? They had to ask why God permitted this and did not stop it. Fellow  believers were among those who turned them in.

The Gospel of Mark, written shortly after this tragedy in Rome, was likely written to answer these questions, scholars say. Jesus, innocent and good, experienced death at the hands of wicked men, that gospel insists. He suffered a brutal, absurd death. Mark’s gospel gives  no answer to the question of suffering except to say that God saved his Son from death.

The Gospel of Mark also gives an unsparing account of Peter’s denial of Jesus in his Passion with no excuse for his failure. Jesus was betrayed and abandoned by his own followers.

Finally, the Roman Christians afterwards would surely wonder whether to stay in this city, an evil city like Babylon Should they go to a safer, better place? The Christians remained in the city. Was the “Quo Vadis?” story a story prompted by questions like these ?

The martyrs of Rome strengthen us to stand where we are and do God’s will, inspired by the Passion of Christ.

A video about the persecution is at the beginning of today’s blog.

Here’s a video about Peter’s encounter with Jesus as he flees from the city during this same persecution: “Quo Vadis?”

Here are Stations of the Cross in the gardens of Ss.Giovanni e Paolo in Rome, once the gardens of the Emperor Nero. Were some early Roman martyrs put to death here?

St. Anthony of Padua

There’ s surprising range of pictures of St. Anthony. In some he’s  blissfully holding the Christ Child in his arms, which is how someone saw him one day towards the end of his life– holding the Child Jesus. At times he’s pictured holding a book in his hand. Some pictures and statues portray him holding the Child and the book together and giving a loaf of bread to  a poor man.

The pictures and statues say a lot about him.

Anthony was born in Portugal in 1195 and died near Padua, Italy in 1291, acclaimed for his preaching and virtues.  Canonized shortly after his death, he’s invoked as a miracle-worker, especially good at finding something lost. But Anthony’s more than a miracle-worker.

His world was the complex, changing world of the 13th century when Europe’s economy was expanding; military crusades against the Muslim powers were in full swing in Spain, Sicily and the Holy Land, and new religious movements like the Franciscans were bringing reform and new vigor to the western church.

Anthony entered the Augustinian community in his birthplace, Lisbon, and studied at the renowned theological center of Coimbra as a young man. Just decades before, Portugal had been freed from the control of the Moors, but then, unfortunately, the victors started fighting among themselves for power and spoils from the crusades.

Anthony rejected the violence and avarice he saw in feuding leaders of church and state; he was a crusader of another kind.  When the bodies of some Franciscan missionaries martyred in Morocco in 1219 while preaching the gospel were brought back to Portugal, Anthony decided to join the new community.  He became a Franciscan and went to Morocco, hoping to preach the faith to the Muslims there, but illness forced him out and he went to Sicily, then to Italy, where he became a Franciscan missionary and teacher.

Only a few years before, in 1206 in Assisi, young Francis Bernadone stripped himself of his trendy, stylish clothes and put on the dress of a poor man, to follow the poor Man of Nazareth, Jesus Christ. Thousands followed him and the movement he began quickly spread through the Christian world. Like others, Anthony was attracted to this movement, eager to bring the gospel “to the ends of the earth.”

The Franciscan movement began with a dedication to absolute poverty and a simple life, but as church leaders requested them to preach the gospel throughout the world its members needed books, education, training and places of formation. Anthony emerged as a model Franciscan preacher and teacher.

Through northern Italy, then through France, Anthony’s vivid, down-to-earth preaching stirred people’s hearts and minds and showed other preachers how to preach.  At the time, the Franciscan movement was not the only movement attracting the people of Europe. Through northern Italy and especially in France, Albigensian teachers were preaching a message of simplicity and release from the burdens of life to believers dissatisfied with the church. They denied that Jesus was divine, they questioned the gospels and painted the world as an evil place.

“Wise as a serpent and simple as a dove” Anthony disputed their message in his preaching. Gifted with an extraordinary memory for the scriptures and an ability to illustrate his talks with homey examples simple people understood, he spoke “with a well-trained tongue.” Thousands came to hear him. The world was not  evil, Anthony taught, Jesus, the Word of God was made flesh and dwelt among us.

Artists capture Anthony’s spirit in their portraits of him. As a preacher and teacher, he carries of book, most likely a psalter holding the Jewish psalms. St. Augustine, whom Anthony studied as a youth, always carried this one book of the bible with him, as a summary of the scriptures.

Some say this book is also clue to Anthony’s gift for finding lost things. He probably kept his notes for teaching and preaching in it. If he lost it–some say one of his students stole it– he lost something valuable to him. He found it, so he knows what it means when someone loses something too. “Good St. Anthony, come around, something’s lost and can’t be found.”

The Christ Child Anthony holds in his arms was more than a momentary vision he had.  Anthony was deeply attracted, as St. Francis was, to the mystery of the Incarnation. The Word became flesh. God became a little child, who grew in wisdom and age and grace in the simple world of Nazareth. He died on a cross, accepting it as his Father’s will. Then, he rose from the dead.

Human life and the world itself has been blessed by this mystery. Because of it,  life can never be small or inconsequential. Even suffering and death have been changed. “The goodness and kindness of God has appeared.” We hold it in our hands.

I suppose this is why a picture of St. Anthony is down in our laundry where Brother Angelo and others wash sheets and towels and clothes. He speaks to this world.

Feast of the Sacred Heart

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The Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus falls on the Friday after the Feast of Corpus Christi because  the Eucharist comes from the loving heart of Jesus.

Devotion to the Sacred Heart has influenced generations of Catholics. I think today of the beautiful church of the Sacred Heart in Springfield, Mass, where Father Theodore Foley, the saintly Passionist whose cause for canonization was recently introduced, grew up. That church surely had a profound influence on him.

The devotion was strong in the pre-Vatican II church, but is it as strong today? I ask that question because as I listened on the internet to a short segment on church music from Vatican Radio featuring popular hymns to the Sacred Heart I realized you don’t hear them much in church today.

The devotion, however, has a long history and is deep significance. Here’s an excerpt from St. Bonaventure for today’s Office of Readings  on the heart of Jesus:

“Take thought now, you who are redeemed, and consider how great and worthy is he who hangs on the cross for you. His death brings the dead to life, but at his passing heaven and earth are plunged into mourning and hard rocks are split asunder.

By divine decree, one of the soldiers opened his sacred side with a lance. This was done so that the Church might be formed from the side of Christ as he slept the sleep of death on the cross, and so that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘They shall look on him whom they pierced’.
“The blood and water which poured out at that moment were the price of our salvation. Flowing from the secret abyss of our Lord’s heart as from a fountain, this stream gave the sacraments of the Church the power to confer the life of grace, while for those already living in Christ it became a spring of living water welling up to life everlasting.”

“Sweet Savior, bless us ere we go
thy words into our minds instill
and make our lukewarm hearts aglow
with lowly love and fervent will.
Through life’s long day and death’s dark night,
O gentle Jesus be our light.”

The Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Visitation
Faith gives life and sends us on a mission. That’s what it did for Mary, Luke’s gospel says.

Mary believes the angel who announces in Nazareth the coming of Jesus, and she’s empowered by the message. So,  she sets out “in haste” for the hill country of Judea to visit Elizabeth, the wife of Zechariah, who also was with child. It’s not an ordinary visit. She goes “in haste” because she’s filled with a sense of mission. She hurries to Judea to announce good news to her relatives serving in the temple of God.

Faith is not a burden; it empowers us. It does not cripple us, it enables.

 “Blessed are you who believed,” Elizabeth says to Mary.

“You too, my people, are blessed,” comments St. Ambrose, “ you who have heard and who believe. Every soul that believes — that soul both conceives and gives birth to the Word of God and recognizes his works.

“Let the soul of Mary be in each one of you, to proclaim the greatness of the Lord. Let the spirit of Mary be in each one of you, to rejoice in God. According to the flesh only one woman can be the mother of Christ, but in the world of faith Christ is the fruit of all of us.”

As with Mary so with us, faith gives life and sends us on a mission..