Tag Archives: Passionists

Calling Disciples

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Mark’s account of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee is succinct. John has been arrested and Herod, who rules in Galilee, is ready to behead him. Not a good time, in human thinking, to begin a ministry. Better wait, we say.

But this is God’s time, different from ours. The Good News is God’s message, not ours. God will act according to his plan, not ours.

The call of the four fisherman, Peter, Andrew, James and John occurs by the Sea of Galilee. For the Jews the sea, like the wilderness, was a dangerous place; storms unsettled it; unpredictable winds made it fearful. Even an inland body of water twelve miles long and six miles wide was something to be wary of. They made a living on it, but still the sea was a dangerous place.

Jesus says simply, “Come after me and I will make you fishers of men.” Mark’s Gospel sees the four fishermen with a lot to learn to be fishers of men. They slowly understand his call. Later on, twelve would be called, (Mark 3,13-19), still later their ministry would be explained. (Mark 6,7-13)

They keep learning, not something you learn in a book, or by yourself. “I will make you fishers of men,” Jesus said. “Come away by yourselves and rest awhile,” he said to his disciples who returned to him with reports of all they had done. (Mark 6,30ff) Every disciple has to learn what the call means for him and for her, and a great deal of it we learn with others.

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The Mass Readings after Epiphany

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The gospel readings at Mass for the week after the Feast of the Epiphany may not seem connected to that great feast, but they are.

The Magi who come to find the King of the Jews represent the nations, the gentiles, to whom Jesus comes as Savior.  In our readings for Monday Jesus, grown in wisdom and age and grace, begins his public ministry after his baptism by John, going into Galilee, “the Galilee of the Gentiles,” Matthew’s gospel calls it. Jesus brings  light “to a people who sit in darkness.” In Galilee he first fulfills the promise made to the Magi.

Baptized by John, Jesus continues his mission, repeating the very words John used to define his ministry: “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” But Jesus goes beyond John, who acknowledges “I am not the Messiah; I am sent before him.(Saturday, John 3,22-3)  Jesus calls a gentile world as well as a Jewish world to turn to God; he is the kingdom of God at hand.

Humanly speaking, it wasn’t a good time to begin such a mission. It’s “after John was arrested,” a dangerous time. Galilee, when Jesus began his mission, was ruled by Herod Antipas, who imprisoned John and then beheaded him. (Matthew 4, 12-25)

But God’s time is not our time. It probably wasn’t a good time either for the Magi to come to Bethlehem, in the days of Herod the Great. But God’s ways are not our ways. That’s important to remember. We can miss the time of grace and its opportunities when we think of time in too human a way.

God could not possibly act now? Why not?

Accounts of the miracle of the loaves and the crossing of the Sea of Galilee from Mark’s gospel are read on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week. Commentators note that Mark uses the Sea of Galilee as a stormy path Jesus takes to reach the gentile world of his day. Those on the other side of the lake are given the samef Bread that he provided for the children of Israel.

It’s to “all of Galilee” that Jesus goes and “as a consequence of this his reputation traveled the length of Syria, They carried to him all those afflicted with various diseases and racked with pain: the possessed, the lunatics, the paralyzed. He cured them all.” (Matthew 4, 23-25)

Galilee is the “Galilee of the gentiles.”

Father Charles of Mount Argus

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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.

Mary, the Mother of God

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The Feast of Mary, the Mother of God (January 1) is celebrated by the Roman Catholic Church as the Christmas celebrations end and a new year begins. Eastern Christian churches have a similar feast honoring the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God at this time.

“Marvelous is the mystery proclaimed today
Our nature is made new as God becomes man;
He remains what he was and becomes what he was not,
Yet each nature stays distinct and undivided.” Canticle, Morning Prayer

Mary’s Son who came “in the fullness of time” blesses all time:
“The LORD bless you and keep you!
The LORD let his face shine upon you,
and be gracious to you!
The LORD look upon you kindly and give you peace!” (Numbers 6, 22-27)

This January feast honoring Mary begins a month named for the Roman god Janus, the two faced god who looks ahead and looks back. Mary connects us to the world ahead as well as the world of the past, and so we pray to her “that we may be made worthy of the promises of Christ.”

On this feast of Mary, the Mother of God, I think of a PBS special “What Darwin Never Knew” produced awhile ago on Nova. I don’t remember or understand a lot of the program’s scientific material, but its description of DNAs and embryos caught my attention.

According to scientists, embryos from different living beings–humans, animals, birds, fish– appear remarkably alike at an early stage of development, as if they were from the same source. Then, something triggers a different development in each species. Humans sprout arms and legs and begin human development. The other species develop in their own way.

Recently, I visited an exhibit called “Deep Time” at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington which described the development of the earth through 4.5 billion years. One section described our development from 4.5 billion years ago. We come from that development; we belong to this world.

In Mary’s womb, the Word became flesh, connecting with the world of the past and the world of the future. Early theologians, like St. Irenaeus, say the Word became truly human. He went through the same process of development as we do. They also say he had to assume all that he would redeem. In his early embryonic journey Jesus Christ assumed the creation he would renew.

“Blessed is the fruit of your womb,” Elizabeth says to Mary before Jesus’ birth. (Luke 1,42) At that moment, the Word of God gave the promise of redemption to another infant– Elizabeth’s son John. The same promise was communicated to the rest of creation too. Jesus Christ is the maker and Savior of all.

The Adaptable Word:December 31

What Child is This?

We try to understand the mystery of the Incarnation, the Word made flesh, in the Christmas season, but it’s beyond our understanding.  Yet the carols, the art, the scriptures, the liturgy, the customs of the season keep reflecting on it.

This morning we sang “What Child is this?” remembering the shepherds and the angels from Luke’s gospel, who greeted “with anthems sweet” the Child on Mary’s lap, sleeping. We sang of the “Silent Word”, pleading for us–John’s gospel. “So bring him incense, gold and myrrh.“ We join the magi from Matthew’s gospel, honoring him. 

Looking through some portrayals of the Nativity recently, I noticed how some 15th century artists influenced by St. Bridget of Sweden’s visions have Mary and Joseph adoring the Child, not in a stable, but on the bare earth, which he has come to save.

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” John’ gospel for today is the inspiration for our Mary Garden. Mary holds her Child up to creation, symbolized by the garden, the Silent Word who blesses all.

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God’s love sent him, John writes in his 1st Letter, repeating the Prologue of his gospel: It was not a show of power, but a revelation of love. “In this way the love of God was revealed to us:

God sent his only-begotten Son into the world

so that we might have life through him.”

How can we understand it? St. Maximus the Confessor says that God comes among us according to our capacity to receive him. God adapts his coming to us, his love is an adaptable love:

“The Word of God, born once in the flesh (such is his kindness and his goodness), is always willing to be born spiritually in those who desire him. In them he is born as an infant as he fashions himself in them by means of their virtues. He reveals himself to the extent that he knows someone is capable of receiving him. He diminishes the revelation of his glory not out of selfishness but because he recognizes the capacity and resources of those who desire to see him. Yet, in the transcendence of mystery, he always remains invisible to all.

For this reason the apostle Paul, reflecting on the power of the mystery, said: Jesus Christ, yesterday and today: he remains the same for ever. For he understood the mystery as ever new, never growing old through our understanding of it.”

An adaptable, respectful love. That’s the way God loves us. That’s the way to love others.

An 84 Year Old Apostle: December 30

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St.. Luke begins his account of the infancy of Jesus in the temple in Jerusalem; where an angel announces the birth of John to Zechariah. He ends his account as  Mary and Joseph take the Child to the temple, “to present him to the Lord.”

Two elderly Jews, Simeon and Anna, meet the Child. Simeon joyfully takes  the Child in his arms. “Now you can dismiss your servant in peace, Lord, because my eyes have seen your salvation.” No temple priests, no officials, no angels, just two old people meet the Child.

Anna, an 84 year temple regular and a widow after being married for only seven years,  also sees the Child. “Coming forward at the very time,” Luke says, “she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were awaiting ttion of Jerusalem.”

The Lord comes to the 84 year old woman, to Simeon, to Mary and Joseph, Elizabeth and Zechariah, the shepherds in the hills, the wise men from afar. He comes to all. John’s letter read also today says that too.

Anna gives thanks at the sight of the Child and speaks about him to everyone she meets. At 84, she becomes an apostle.

It ain’t over till it’s over.

His Kindness Has Appeared

What does Jesus Christ reveal about God? He is the Word of God who reveals God to us, St. Bernard says, and in him “the kindness and love of God has been revealed and  we receive abundant consolation in this pilgrimage, this exile, this distress.”

Before he appeared as human, God’s kindness lay concealed, Bernard says. “Of course it was already in existence, because the mercy of the Lord is from eternity, but how could we know it was so great? It was promised but not yet experienced: hence many did not believe in it. At various times and in various different ways, God spoke through the prophets, saying I know the plans I have in mind for you: plans for peace, not disaster…”

“What greater proof could he have given of his mercy than by taking upon himself what needed mercy most? Where is there such perfect loving-kindness as in the fact that for our sake the Word of God became perishable like the grass? Lord, what is man, that you make much of him or pay him any heed?”

“See how much God cares for us. See what God thinks of us, what he feels about us. Don’t look at your own sufferings; look at God’s sufferings. Learn from what he was made for you, how much he makes of you; let his kindness be seen in his humanity.”

“ The lesser he has made himself in his humanity, the greater has he shown himself in kindness. The more he humbles himself on my account, the more powerfully he engages my love. The kindness and humanity of God our Saviour appeared says St Paul. The humanity of God shows the greatness of his kindness, and he who added humanity to the name of God gave great proof of this kindness.”