Tag Archives: Passionists

The Easter Tree

At Easter we celebrate the flowering of the cross.  Artists did this with the fruitful cross in the great apse of San Clemente in Rome brimming with life. (above)  Preachers like Theodore the Studite do it; here’s his sermon below.

“How precious the gift of the cross, how splendid to contemplate! In the cross there is no mingling of good and evil, as in the tree of paradise: it is wholly beautiful to behold and good to taste. The fruit of this tree is not death but life, not darkness but light. This tree does not cast us out of paradise, but opens the way for our return.

“This was the tree on which Christ, like a king on a chariot, destroyed the devil, the Lord of death, and freed the human race from his tyranny. This was the tree upon which the Lord, like a brave warrior wounded in his hands, feet and side, healed the wounds of sin that the evil serpent had inflicted on our nature. A tree once caused our death, but now a tree brings life. Once deceived by a tree, we have now repelled the cunning serpent by a tree.

“What an astonishing transformation! That death should become life, that decay should become immortality, that shame should become glory! Well might the holy Apostle exclaim: Far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world!”

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St. Gemma Galgani

SONY DSCGemma Umberta Pia Galgani
(1878-1903)

Gemma Galgani should have died unnoticed, for she left no children or family, no hospitals, schools or any human achievement bearing her name. Often sickly in her 25 years of life, disappointments marked her life at every turn. She never got her wish to enter the Passionist Nuns or any other religious community.

Yet, at the news of her death on Holy Saturday, 1903, in the city of Lucca, Italy, neighbors gathered quickly in the city’s ancient streets proclaiming “A saint has died.” Today we’re celebrating her feast.

Gemma died appropriately on the eve of Easter, for she lived a life of intimacy with the Risen Jesus and shared in his passion and death. The young woman spoke familiarly with him in prayer and bore his wounds in her body. Many think the spiritual world faraway; for Gemma it wasn’t faraway at all– saints and angels, Jesus himself, were ever at her side.

“Poor Gemma”, she called herself; but she was not poor. Frail in body and mind, she was no failure. In declaring her a saint, Pope Pius XII said that Gemma experienced what the great apostle Paul experienced: “I have been crucified with Christ and the life that I live is not my own: Christ lives in me.”

Gemma said of herself: “Often I seem to be alone; but really I have Jesus as my companion…I am the fruit of your passion, Jesus, born of your wounds. O Jesus, seek me in love; I no longer possess anything; you have stolen my heart.”

In Gemma’s time, “enlightened” thinkers like Freud and Jung saw only human answers to the mystery of the human person. Little concerned about God’s presence in human life, they would probably have dismissed Gemma and her spiritual experiences as delusional. Some of Lucca’s “enlightened” people had that same opinion of her.

But Gemma’s Passionist spiritual director, Father Germano, saw God working in her, and the church concurred in his judgment by declaring her a saint in 1940.

As humanity today defines itself increasingly in human terms and sees success here on earth as our ultimate goal, Gemma is a strong reminder of God’s presence in ordinary people, even in unsuccessful, imperfect people. Devotion to the Passion of Christ gave Gemma a deep sense that Jesus loved her and lived in her. She saw her life fulfilled in him and his promise of life beyond this.

We’re not alone. Jesus Christ is our companion as well.
Lucca StreetsSONY DSCLucca St. Michael 3

You can get St. Gemma’s Autobiography or a The Life of St. Gemma Galgani by writing to the Passionist Nuns, 1151 Donaldson Highway, Erlanger, Kentucky 41018
(859)371 8568

“Then one day I became very discouraged because I saw that it was impossible for me to become a Passionist, because I have nothing at alI: all I have is a great desire to be one. I suffer much seeing myself so far from realizing my desires. No one will be able to take this desire away from me. But when will it come about?” Letter to Germano

Gemm’a buried at the Convent of the Passionist Nuns in Lucca, Italy. The house where she lived before she died has been turned into a museum honoring her. Both places worth a visit.

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The Song of Birds

Noah
Around 7 AM  I sit for a few minutes on the porch as the weather gets warmer.  The sparrows and the doves are usually singing away, but the other day they couldn’t be seen or heard.  I soon saw why: a big hawk flew by overhead.

After awhile the birds were back, singing and chirping as usual. Someone told me our ears are wired to hear the song of birds. Why? They tell us all is well, no dangerous enemies nearby.

Birds singing tell us the world’s in good hands. That’s why Noah sent a dove from the ark, I think. The dove not only brought back olive branches signifying all was well, but sang the good news to those in the closed boat.

By baptism we’re wired to hear God’s voice. We listen for God’s good news, despite the dangers. We listen for a world redeemed, a higher plan at play. Good reason to begin the day, listening to birds singing..

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Weekday Readings: 5th Week of the Easter Season

Spanish
Monday Acts 14,5-18; John 14, 21-26
Tuesday Acts 14,19-28; John 14, 27-31
Wednesday Acts 15,1-6; John 15, 1-8
Thursday Acts 15, 7-21; John 15, 9-11
Friday Acts 15, 22-31; John 15, 12-17
Saturday Acts 16,1-10; John 15,18-21

The gospel readings for the remainder of the Easter season are from the Farewell Discourse from John’s gospel. Jesus says he is going to the Father. His disciples reluctantly listen.

“I will not leave you orphans,” Jesus says, yet he will not be with them as he was before, Rather, he will be with them as God is always with them. Now, the Paraclete, the Spirit of truth, will teach them all things; Jesus’ presence  will be in sacramental signs and words he will speak in various ways and “disguised” in the least.

The Acts of the Apostles continue to describe  the church’s journey in time. This week’s readings  recall the successful missionary efforts of Paul and Barnabas among the gentiles in the Asia Minor cities of Lystra, Derbe, and Pisidia. The mission raises questions in the Jewish Christian community at Jerusalem. Are the gentiles taking over the movement? To meet what some considered a threat and others an opportunity,  a council was called in Jerusalem. It had  enormous consequences for the church.

Conflict causes the church to grow, Pope Francis said some time ago: “But some in Jerusalem, when they heard this, became ‘nervous and sent Barnabas on an “apostolic visitation”: perhaps, with a little sense of humor we could say that this was the theological beginning of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith: this apostolic visit by Barnabas. He saw, and he saw that things were going well.”

Previously in his homily, the pope made the point that when persecution or crises occur, growth also occurs in the church, often hidden. In the 1960s and 70s the church in the western world experienced critical times. As it declined in the western world, tremendous growth took place in Africa, Asia, and South America. Today there are 1.2 billion Catholics in a world of 6 billion people.

And it’s not over yet.

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5th Sunday of Easter

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Silent Clay

The daily Mass readings for Eastertime, from the Acts of the Apostles and the Gospel of John, are so different in tone. As its title suggests, the Acts of the Apostles is a fast-moving account of a developing church spreading rapidly through the world through people like Paul of Tarsus and his companions. Blazing new trails and visiting new places,  they’d be prime targets today for frequent flyer programs and travel sites on the internet.  Always on the go.

The supper-room discourse of Jesus from the Gospel of John, on the other hand,  seem to move slowly, repeating, lingering over the words of Jesus to his disciples. They tell us to listen and be quiet, sit still. Don’t go anywhere at all.

St. Paul of the Cross, the founder of the Passionists, was inspired by St. Paul, the Apostle, to preach and to teach. Many of his letters end telling his reader that he has to go, he’s off to preach the gospel somewhere. He was a “frequent flyer.”

But the Gospel of John also inspired him; it was the basis for his teaching on prayer. Keep in God’s presence, in pure faith, he often said. Enter that inner room and remain there. Don’t go anywhere.

“It’s not important for you to feel the Divine Presence, but very important to continue in pure faith, without comfort, loving God who satisfies our longings. Remain like a child resting on the bosom of God in faithful silence and holy love. Remain there in the higher part of your soul paying no attention to the noise of the enemy outside. Stay in that room with your Divine Spouse…Be what Saint John Chrysostom says to be: silent clay offered to the potter. Give yourself to your Maker. What a beautiful saying! What the clay gives to the potter, give to your Creator. The clay is silent; the potter does with it what he wills. If he breaks it or throws away, it is silent and content, because it knows it’s in the king’s royal gallery.”  (Letter 1515)

 


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Jesus, the Teacher

This evening at our mission at Immaculate Conception Parish in Irvington on the Hudson, I spoke about Jesus, the Teacher. I like Rembrandt’s drawing of Jesus preaching to a crowd. For one thing, the crowd around him seems to represent all ages, shapes and sizes of ordinary humanity. Jesus’ disciples, like Peter, James and John may be there, but they don’t seem to stand out. Maybe some of his enemies are there, but they don’t stand out either. They’re all there listening, except maybe the little child on the ground playing with something he’s found. And Jesus teaches them.

Did Rembrandt find these faces in the people of his neighborhood, ordinary people? If that’s so, this crowd could be us.

Luke’s gospel seems a lot like this painting to me. In much of Luke’s gospel Jesus makes his way from Galilee to Jerusalem, and as he goes his way he calls everybody to follow him. Some women from Galilee follow him. He calls Zachaeus, the tax collector, down from a tree to join him. Follow me, he says to a blind man begging in the same place for years. He called people in every shape and form, sinners, tax-collectors, everyone.

It was not just to see him die that he calls them to follow him, but to go with him onto glory. “Come with me this day to paradise, “ Jesus says to the thief on the cross. Our creed says he descends into hell, which means he goes to those who have been waiting for centuries for the redemption he brings. He calls to all, to them and to us, to follow him.

Following Jesus to glory also means taking up our cross each day. Listen to Luke’s gospel: “Then he said to all, ‘If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily *and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’” ( Luke 9, 23-24 )

Listen carefully to what Jesus says. He speaks to “all”. Everyone in this world has a challenge to take up and a burden to bear. Jesus also says, “take up your cross.” It’s a cross that’s distinctly ours. It’s not the same cross that Jesus bore; it’s the cross we bear. “Do you want to see the cross? Hold out your arms; there it is.” (Wisdom of the Desert)

He blesses us from his cross. He gives us strength to bear what we have to bear and to carry out the mission he gives us.

Besides taking up our cross each day, Jesus says also to become like little children to enter into his glory. Often in the gospel, Jesus points to children when his own disciples try to lord it over other people. Listen again to St. Luke:

“An argument arose among the disciples about which of them was the greatest. Jesus realized the intention of their hearts and took a child and placed it by his side and said to them, “Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” Luke 9, 46-48

One of the saints describes this teaching very well. Jesus doesn’t tell us to go back to being children physically. We can’t do that. This is what it means to be children. “To be free from crippling anxieties, to be forgetful of injuries, to be sociable, and to stand in wonder before all things.” (St. Leo the Great)

There’s great wisdom in Jesus’ teaching on spiritual childhood. No matter how old or young we are, we’re called to become like children. Rembrandt instinctively has a child prominently in his drawing of Jesus preaching to the crowd. Jesus opens his hands as he preaches. Can we see him teaching them they must bear their cross?

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