Tag Archives: Passionists

Wednesday, 2nd Week of Advent

“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will refresh you.” We’re drawn to that gospel reading today, but notice, Jesus speaks to the “crowds” in Matthew’s gospel, not just to the disciples around him. God’s love and God’s promises reach far beyond the circle of disciples. Jesus Christ reaches out to refresh the world that labors and is burdened, even if it doesn’t know him.

Scholars say today’s first reading from the 40th chapter of Isaiah comes, not from Isaiah the priest who spoke in Jerusalem as Assyrian armies were closing in to destroy the city in the 8th century before Christ, but from an unknown prophet who spoke to Jewish exiles in Babylon centuries later urging them to return to Jerusalem to build it up. The unknown prophet uses Isaiah’s name and language lest he be killed by the government for suggesting such a thing .

Not many of the Jews in Babylon are interested in the prophet’s invitation, it seems. Taken captive to Babylon centuries before, they’re part of the place now. Babylon’s their home. They have families and jobs there; Jerusalem is far away and its future uncertain.

The unknown prophet speaks for God who’s rejected in favor of life in Babylon:

“To whom can you liken me as an equal?
says the Holy One…
Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The LORD is the eternal God,
creator of the ends of the earth.
He does not faint nor grow weary,
and his knowledge is beyond scrutiny.”

A woman teaching in a parish religion class told me recently she asked a young boy who obviously wasn’t happy being there why he came. “My mother told me to come.”
“Don’t you want to know about God?” the woman asked him.
“I don’t believe in God,” the boy answered.
“Don’t you want to know about the church?”
“I never go to church. None of my friends do.”

“Come to me, “ Jesus says.

“Do you not know
or have you not heard?
The Lord is an eternal God,
creator of the ends of earth,” the unknown prophet says.

Saint Francis Xavier (1506-1552)

“All nations will come to climb the mountain of the Lord,” the Prophet Isaiah says in our Advent readings. Joining Portuguese merchants, Saint Francis Xavier went to far-off Asia, not in search of exotic spices and goods, but to call new followers to Jesus Christ.

For 10 years, Francis Xavier labored in India, Japan and southeast Asia to bring the gospel to the native peoples of these lands. In a letter to St. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, he explains that he’s so busy teaching and baptizing he has hardly a minute to himself. “Send help,” he says.

“Many, many people hereabouts are not becoming Christians for one reason only: there is nobody to make them Christians. Again and again I have thought of going round the universities of Europe, especially Paris, and everywhere crying out like a madman, riveting the attention of those with more learning than charity: ‘What a tragedy: how many souls are being shut out of heaven and falling into hell, thanks to you!’”

He’s driven by missionary zeal. Today, unfortunately, we’re becoming more like those university people in Paris– concerned about ourselves and ready to let the rest of the world go by.

The statue of Saint Francis Xavier above is  in the beautiful church of the Sacred Heart in Springfield, MA, where Father Theodore Foley went as a boy. Was it put there after a Novena of Grace preached by some Jesuit missionaries, I wonder? How many  people, like Theodore Foley, heard the story of the fiery missionary and saw themselves called to be missionaries ?


The Immaculate Conception


Audio homily here: 

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.


Mary Gardens

Andrea Oliva Florenda, a professor at St. John’s University in Queens, New York, offered a day of reflection on Mary Gardens, December 1 at Bishop Molloy Retreat Center, Jamaica, New York. Professor Florenda teaches in the department of theology and religious studies at St. John’s, specializing in Marian theology. She’s also the designer and curator of the Marian Garden at the university.

Mary Gardens, dedicated to Mary, the Mother of Jesus, appeared in Europe following the Black Death, a pandemic that caused millions of deaths in that part of the world in the 14th century. The gardens, usually found in monasteries and religious shrines, brought hope to people walking “in the shadow of death.”

God placed Adam and Eve in a garden, Christian tradition says. (Genesis 2, 8-28) Rising from the dead, Jesus proclaimed eternal life in a garden. (John 20,11-18) For early and medieval Christians, Mary appeared as a garden enclosed, flowers, plants and trees surrounded her, “our life, our sweetness and our hope.” The Mary Garden, which became a favorite inspiration for medieval and renaissance artists, brought the promise of life to the “poor banished children of Eve.”

Does the Mary Garden have a role today in a world facing climate change and environmental degradation? Professor Florenda thinks it does. Besides the mysteries of faith, it teaches reverence for creation, for the soil, for plants that feed us and bring healing, for flowers that nourish our sense of beauty.

Certainly science and technology have a large part to play in the current environmental movement, but Professor Florenda notes the number of young people, from various religious tradition drawn to her Mary Garden at St. John’s, where the mysteries of seed and soil unfold, where pharmacy students study medicinal herbs and seasonal vegetables feed the poor.

The day of reflection on Mary Gardens ended at the grotto honoring Mary in the garden of Immaculate Conception Monastery in Jamaica. There, Professor Florenda spoke about the meaning of the grotto, its structure and the plants and trees surrounding it.

“There is a language in each flower,
that opens to the eye,
A voiceless but a magic power.
A prayer in earth’s blossoms lie.” Anonymous

The Presentation of Mary in the Temple

The Presentation of Mary is an ecumenical feast celebrated by churches of the east and west. It began in Jerusalem where tradition said Mary was born near the temple. Her father Joachim provided lambs for the temple sacrifices. Joachim and his wife Ann were childless until, at the promise of an angel, they were blessed with a daughter. They presented her in the temple when she was three, traditions says, and she was raised among virgins. The present church of St. Ann in Jerusalem, almost adjacent to the ancient temple site, marks the place where Mary was born.

This isn’t the only tradition about Mary’s birth, of course, Nazareth and a city nearby, Sepphoris, also make that claim.

What should we think of this tradition? Basically it tells us Mary was closely connected to the Jewish temple, a claim Luke’s gospel supports. He says that Mary’s cousin Elizabeth was married to Zechariah, a temple priest. So, was Mary’s family connected there too?

Luke links Mary to the temple a number of times. Forty days after Jesus was born, Mary and Joseph go there “when the days were completed for their purification,” (Luke 2,22) Jewish custom did not demand that they do this, but they did.

Luke also says Mary and Joseph brought Jesus from childhood to the temple to celebrate the feasts. For Mary, the temple was a place where from childhood she came into God’s presence. It was not a cloister, but a place of spiritual teaching; prophets spoke in its courtyard and the world came for wisdom there. The old man Simeon spoke to her and the old woman Anna praised God’s deeds there.

In words constantly repeated in the psalms:   

“The Lord is in his holy temple,
The Lord’s throne is in heaven.” (Psalm 11)

Mary introduced her Son to this holy place which later he called “his Father’s house.” He engaged its teachers and spoke about his own mission as he celebrated its feasts. He celebrated the last supper nearby and died as the lambs from the temple were being sacrificed.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, dedicated his first retreat on Monte Argentario in Italy, to the Presentation of Mary in the Temple. He wanted the places where his religious lived to be places that imitated this mystery– where God was present; where prayers were said; where prophets and teachers could be met; where the world found wisdom.